Sunday 30 May 2010

Driving a sperm whale can get hairy for a non-seaman

I drove a ship once. And I’m not talking about a sampan or a “relation-ship”.

It was a giant tanker ship – like the one that spilled 2,500 tonnes of crude oil into the sea after a collision near Singapore last week.

It was like trying to drive a sperm whale. (Not that I’ve driven a sperm whale before.)

Okay, maybe “driving” isn’t the right word, but then I’m no seaman and semantics was the last thing on my mind during those terrifying few minutes.

Some years ago, I was heading to Thailand on a civilian tanker ship as part of my navy in-camp training and I somehow ended up on the bridge.

I was only the medic, but because we were short-handed, I reluctantly became the jittery helmsman under the watchful eye of our never-die-before commanding officer.

You know how the scariest part of learning to fly a plane is the landing? (Not that I’ve flown a plane before.) Well, the scariest part of driving a tanker ship is going alongside the wharf.

You think parallel parking is tough? Imagine parallel parking a sperm whale.

It’s not like you can just step on the brakes. If you want to stop a vessel as gigantuanormous as a tanker ship, you have to kill the engines like yesterday.

Or hope for an iceberg, but then the results would be pretty grim. I’ve seen the movie.

Luckily, the tanker I was driving was empty. And I didn’t hit anything – that hard.

So I can understand why ships collide – even when I’m not driving.

Fortunately, last week’s oil spill came after the one in the Gulf of Mexico, so we can learn from the clean-up efforts there.

That oil spill is turning into the worst US environmental disaster in history, threatening wildlife and livelihoods.

For our oil spill, we’re more worried about the smell and whether it will affect our weekend plans. (Why go to the beach anyway? It’s the first weekend of the Great Singapore Sale!)

In the US, an organisation called Matter Of Trust is collecting hair from salons and individuals across the country to be used to help soak up the gulf oil spill.

Apparently, because of the natural microscopic cracks and holes on human hair, it is a fantastic oil absorbent.

And since our oil spill is much much much smaller than the one in the US, why don't I clean up our waters by just swimming along the eastern coastline of the island, absorbing all the spilled oil with my long hippie hair?

You’re welcome, Singapore.

Now I just need to find a sponsor for the shampoo to wash that sludge out of my hair afterwards.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 May 2010

UPDATE NEA says waters at East Coast & Changi beaches now safe

Sunday 23 May 2010

Mother's Day is over, but Eat With Your Family Day is coming

I don't have many friends.

So most of the non-work related phone calls I get are either from telemarketers or my mother. Of the two, I prefer telemarketers because at least I can hang up on them.

When I owned a car, my mother would regularly call me to drive her somewhere or pick her up from somewhere. I've been a little happier since I sold the car.

But my mother still calls me every few weeks to try and guilt me into going to her place for dinner. Which isn't so bad by itself except it's usually on the day of one of the innumerable Chinese festivals that I can't keep track of when she cooks a lot of food to pray to our dead ancestors.

She just wants me to help eat the leftovers.

When I say no, I can hear her heart breaking over the phone, but mine has already hardened over the million times we have had this phone conversation.

As you may have guessed, I didn't call my mother two Sundays ago to wish her a happy Mother's Day. She didn't call me too. I'm assuming she didn't have leftovers.

And I don't expect her to call this Thursday even though it's Eat With Your Family Day.

As far as I know, Eat With Your Family Day is meant for busy working parents to bond with their young children and not for elderly neglected mothers to retie the apron strings to their uncaring grown-up sons.

As a working parent myself, I don't need a day dedicated to eating with my children, now 13 and 11. I believe I spend more than enough time eating with them.

I've recently come to realise that most of the fights I have with my wife and kids are over food. When we go out, it's almost impossible to agree on where and what to eat.

My son would eat McDonald's double cheeseburgers and fries for every meal if he could. My daughter likes KFC. My wife loathes fast food. I just don't want to spend too much money.

If each of us get what we want, we would be eating in four different locations. But for the sake of family bondage - I mean, bonding, we usually end up eating at some place that at least one person hates.

The resulting bitterness and resentment can get so bad that I would've preferred eating at my mother's. At least the food there is free.

My phone is ringing. I hope it's someone trying to sell me a wonderful new financial plan.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 May 2010

Sunday 16 May 2010

Iron Man versus World Cup: And the winner is ... movie fans in Singapore

I don't know if you've heard, but apparently, there's going to be a World Cup this year in June.

I was so caught up in the excitement of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games and the third Formula 1 night race that I forgot about all other sporting events outside Singapore.

Not for nothing was our great country named the world's No. 2 Ultimate Sports City by the Sport Accord Convention last month. Melbourne is No. 1.

If only we hosted the International Pole Dance Championships, we could've beaten those fly-ridden Aussies.

Anyway, due to the recent lack of publicity regarding the World Cup and how much Singaporeans have to pay to watch it on TV, I was completely oblivious about the upcoming premier international soccer tournament to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa - that is, until a superhero came to my rescue.

That superhero was, of course, Iron Man.

What does Iron Man have to do with the World Cup? you ask. Good question.

Hollywood is a long way from Singapore, but nowadays, it's commonplace for Hollywood blockbusters to open in Singapore on the same weekend as in the US.

I'm old enough to remember the pre-multiplex days of yore when this was unheard of - it could take months for a movie to reach our shores.

Which was what made the opening of the Iron Man movie sequel in Singapore two weekends ago so special. It's easily the most anticipated movie of the year and we actually got to see it one week before it opened in the US.

One whole week!

If you were in the US, you'd be a little frustrated. Finally, the Americans get a taste of how the rest of the world have felt for a years, reading about some cool movie that we can't see because it's not showing in our country yet. Spoiler alert!

Is this the start of a new trend, like bad 3D and big-screen adaptations of comic books non-geeks have never heard of?

According to Paramount, the studio behind Iron Man 2, the reason it released the movie internationally a week before the US opening was to avoid clashing with the World Cup and since you can't even pay most Americans to watch soccer, the World Cup is not a factor in the US.

And this was how I found out about the World Cup via Iron Man.

Except the World Cup explanation doesn't quite hold water.

The tournament starts on June 11, about four weeks from today. Let's say Iron Man 2 opened in Singapore last weekend like in the US, that's still five weeks before the opening World Cup match. Where's the clash?

Other male-oriented flicks like The A-Team and The Karate Kid even have the machismo to open on the same weekend as the World Cup.

Could Iron Man really be such a wuss? Don't tell me Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke really be afraid of a sport played by girls in their home country. That would break my heart.

I suspect the real reason is the old reason - the same reason many major Hollywood releases now open simultaneously around the world: piracy.

Unfortunately, non-Americans (like Singaporeans) are culturally more inclined to watch pirated movies than Americans.

On the bright side, we got to watch Iron Man 2 first! God bless America!

I wonder if they'll reschedule the Phua Chu Kang movie to avoid clashing with the Youth Olympics.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 May 2010

Sunday 9 May 2010

I am not Adrian Pang

Years ago, I was in a video store in Parkway Parade. The young shop assistant asked if she could help me. I said no thanks, I was only browsing.

At this point, most shop assistants would usually leave me alone, but this girl just kept staring at me quietly.

Did she suspect me of being a shoplifter? I didn't think so because she had a strange bemused look on her face.

Was she admiring my radiant handsomeness? Yes, I believed that was it.

Finally, she said: "I've seen you before."

Unlikely, since that was the first time I had been in the shop.

"You were on TV or something, right?" she asked.

Yes, years earlier, I was on a TV show called Live On 5 as a movie reviewer with Gurmit Singh, but she looked too young to have seen it. So I just smiled and shook my head.

Then she disappeared while I continued checking out the DVDs.

Moments later, she reappeared holding a copy of the Forever Fever VCD in front of my face. She pointed to the movie's lead actor, Adrian Pang, on the cover and declared triumphantly: "This is you!"

I didn't know who should be more insulted, me or Adrian. But since Adrian wasn't there...

"No!" I said adamantly, feeling my radiant handsomeness fading away.

"Don't bluff. It's you!" she insisted, tapping on the VCD cover as if the proof was right before my eyes.

I soon fled the shop, leaving the shop assistant unconvinced that I wasn't the star of Forever Fever.

I bring up this incident because Adrian was in the news last week for being perhaps too happy about finally leaving MediaCorp.

As he wrote on his Facebook page on April 28: "i've officially got THREE MORE DAYS as a Media-Corpse!!! counting down the minutes til i'm FREEEEEE!!! gonna celebrate by getting shitface drunk" and so on.

As a former MediaCorp employee myself, I say party on, dude.

I first met Adrian when we were both working for TVWorks, which became Channel i, which became defunct.

He played Russell Koh on the extremely short-lived TVWorks programme The Big Buffet. The character was so popular that after The Big Buffet was cancelled, Russell joined the sitcom Ah Girl, which I had created without him. Adrian won his first Asian TV Award for the role in 2002.

I later worked with Adrian for the first time when I got him to host the series finale special of PCK Pte Ltd. Then I became the executive producer of the second season of Maggie & Me, which starred Adrian and Fiona Xie.

He is usually the best thing in any show he's in, even in those Channel 8 dramas that he so loathed to do because of the language problem.

I once bumped into him in the MediaCorp canteen and tried in vain to convince him that being in the hit Chinese-language series Portrait Of Home was good for him because it exposed him a wider audience. Even my children loved the show and they don't usually watch Channel 8 programmes.

But he hated it, hated it, hated it. And he openly brooded about it, making sure everyone at MediaCorp knew how much he hated it, hated it, hated it.

The reason MediaCorps kept forcing him to do Chinese-language shows was that it didn't have enough English-language programmes to put him in to justify his salary.

Which was partly why Adrian seemed to be in every recent Channel 5 drama series, but even starring in Red Thread, Polo Boys and The Pupil one after the other wasn't enough.

Channel 8 cranks out two hours of new local drama every weeknight year-round whereas Channel 5, well, doesn’t.

Pierre Png is another MediaCorp actor who struggles with the Chinese language in Channel 8 dramas, but is less openly bitter about it.

Gurmit Singh is under less pressure to do Channel 8 programmes because, well, he isn't Chinese - his role as Phua Chu Kang notwithstanding. But even Gurmit has been roped in to co-host the New City Beat with Adrian recently.

Another issue for Adrian is that his true love is the theatre. TV is just for paying the bills and for his kids' future education. His new theatre company, Pangdemonium! Productions, will be staging The Full Monty musical next month.

But it's a testament to his incredible talent that even when he was doing something he didn't really care about, he got nominated for a Star Award - three times.

So I could do worse than being mistaken for Adrian Pang. Most of the time, I'm just mistaken for being sleepy.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 May 2010

Hi dude,

Adrian pang here. I only just got alerted to the piece you wrote “I am Not Adrian Pang”, and I thought it was HILARIOUS!!!

Also wanted to say thanks for the kind wishes – Pangdemonium is up and running and causing, well pangdemonium. I’ve never been happier.

Hope all’s going great with you....and that you are no longer being mistaken for me...

Take care,

Sunday 2 May 2010

Dear Goondu, why you so blur like sotong?

It was a little joke that took on a life of its own.

Imagine my horror last Friday when I opened The Straits Times and saw a caricature of me labelled “Dear Sotong”. How did this come about?

A few days earlier, my New Paper colleague Sylvia Toh Paik Choo surprised me with news that she and I are going to be writing an advice column in The New Paper on Sunday for a new section called Family Matters.

Naturally, my first reaction was to act blur, although as many have surmised, I’m not acting.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about this earlier? I could’ve prepared for it by re-watching all the Oprah Winfrey episodes where Dr Phil was a guest.

Paik Choo told me to relax. She said the fact that she and I were asked to do it and not, say, someone with actual qualifications or at least capable of appearing to give a damn meant that our joint advice column was not intended to be taken seriously.

Now that stung. Who says I’m not qualified?

Having been married twice, in therapy, retrenched, a country music fan and arrested for violating a restraining order, I can certainly give advice on what not to do.

But I saw Paik Choo’s point. After all, my current column in The New Paper on Sunday is called Act Blur. How can I expect anyone to take me seriously?

When I told my wife about the new advice column, she immediately told me she had the perfect name for it. “Dear Sotong,” she said excitedly.

Oh, as in “blur like sotong”. A great idea except that I wasn’t keen on being named after a squid.

But when Paik Choo asked me to come up with a name for the advice column the next day, I made the mistake of telling her what my wife suggested – as a joke.

“And I can be Dear Goondu!” Paik Choo said excitedly, referring to her decades-old bestseller Eh, Goondu!


Before I knew it, e-mails were sent, caricatures were drawn and there I was in the newspaper as “Dear Sotong”. It was part of a blurb inviting readers to write in about their problems to Paik Choo and me.

But who in their right minds would write to seafood for advice, serious or otherwise?

If the answer is you, please send your problems

The Goondu and I await your mail with dread.

- Published in The New Paper, 2 May 2010

Dear Goondu, Dear Sotong column: My teacher sister behaves like a kid

Saturday 1 May 2010

And the ‘baddest’ shopping centre in Singapore is...

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Mall Brawl!

And like any fight to the death, this is not about being the best shopping centre in Singapore – it’s about being the “baddest”.

Which is different from being the “worst”. For example, among the worst new shopping centres in Singapore are Orchard Central and Iluma.

Sure, the buildings are architecturally adventurous, but many of the shop spaces in OC and Iluma remain unoccupied. You can tell that a number of their tenants have already thrown in the towel. And those who are hanging on look very sad.

Where are the crowds?

After all, both shopping centres are in seemingly great central locations.

Orchard Central is, as the name suggests, in the centre of Orchard Road. Iluma is, uh, somewhere along Iluma Road? Actually, it’s in Bugis, just across the street from Bugis Junction.

Yet, despite being near heavily-used MRT stations, both OC and Iluma have quickly turned into virtual ghost malls.

So they may be the “worst” shopping centres in Singapore, but they’re certainly not the “baddest”.

The “baddest” shopping centres seem to keep drawing crowds because of their very “badness”.

They’re for shoppers who want that element of danger to go with the bargain hunting.

They’re like that skanky goth chick with the fake breasts and full-body tattoo you know you shouldn’t sleep with, but you do anyway. (Sandra Bullock’s soon-to-be ex-hubby can relate.)

So are you ready to rumble?

In one corner, we have Sim Lim Square, built in 1987, six storeys high and not that far from Iluma.

Recently raided for the zillionth time for selling illegal goods, it was the ironic site of a World Intellectual Property Day event held by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore last Monday.

And in the other corner, we have Mustafa Centre, built in 1995, six storeys high and open 24/7.

Last month, its ground floor was forced to close for 40 hours by the Singapore Civil Defence Force for overcrowding, which presented a fire hazard.

And the winner of the Mall Brawl is... drum roll, please... People’s Park Complex!

Fire hazard? Amateurs.

People’s Park Complex actually caught fire two weeks ago.

No one was hurt, but the fire apparently started in some illegally built storerooms in the building.

But you know what makes People’s Park Complex the “baddest” of them all?

It was reported that the illegal storeroom that caught fire contained... drum roll, please... sex toys!

Let’s see Sim Lim Square top that.

- Unpublished

UPDATE: Iluma has been rebranded as Bugis+