Sunday 28 November 2010

Overcharged: How can we trust bus companies now?

Last Monday, the Land Transport Authority revealed that bus commuters have been overcharged a total of $300,000 since the new distance-based fare system was implemented in July.

I pitied those poor public transport-dependent souls.

Out of curiosity, I went to and typed in the number of the sole bus service plying my area just to see what would happen.

I got the message: “This bus service is affected. If you had travelled along the affected bus stops between 3 July and 25 November 2010, you may be affected by the distance discrepancies.”

Alamak! My kids take that bus to and from school practically every day (even during the school holidays because they have volleyball practice).

Out of the hundreds of bus services in Singapore, the service that my family rely on the most unfortunately has to be one of 27 SMRT bus services that have been erroneously syphoning a few extra cents from our ez-link cards with every trip.

It was like winning an “unlucky draw”, except instead of winning money, the prize is finding out that you’ve lost money.

Sure, commuters can get their refunds “at their convenience” at bus interchanges and MRT stations. But wouldn’t it be more convenient for commuters not to have to get refunds at all?

And money isn’t even the real issue here since each individual refund amounts to only a few dollars at most.

It’s the betrayal of public trust.

Remember all those complaints about the new fare system three months ago and how the powers that be reassured us it was an “equitable” system that saved us money?

Remember all those times over the years when the Public Transport Council kept insisting that the fare hikes were justified?

How are we to believe any of that now?

I’m not suggesting that they’re lying to us. I’m saying they can’t seem to get their numbers right.

Such incompetence has resulted only in financial loss, but what if the bus companies are just as inept in the maintenance of vehicles and training of drivers?

Am I naive to entrust the safety and lives of my children to them?

Speaking of financial loss, the bus companies are also foregoing the $100,000 they lost from undercharging on some services and won’t be reclaiming that money from commuters.

Are we supposed to say “thank you”? “Spank you” maybe.

All I know is that when I get the refunds, I’m going to check the amounts in my kids’ ez-link cards - and then check them again.

You know, just in case they deduct our money instead. “Erroneously”, of course.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 November 2010

Hi mr. Ong

great article that you wrote on tnp today.


Dear TNP,

Just wanted to draw your attention to the TNP article by SM Ong, “Overcharged" on 28 Nov.

While we understand that this is a light-hearted piece, we do not agree with Mr Ong on two points - betrayal of public trust and if distance fares is an equitable system.

In fact, the recent announcement on the bus stop distances refunds affirmed the intergritty of our system, rather than betrayal of trust as Mr Ong claimed.

He has chosen to ignore the fact that LTA/operators have been upfront and we came forward to correct these errors.

We also failed to understand how this episode would detract from the argument that Distance Fares is an equitable system, since the basis and rationale of the policy remains unchanged. More importantly, any errors is rectified quickly.

We are concerned with this as there is suggestion of betrayal of public trust in the article, when we have been forthright in correcting the errors.

We do take this seriously and we felt it is really not a fair comment to us.

Helen LIM (Ms)
Deputy Director, Media Relations, Corporate Communications
Land Transport Authority

Sunday 21 November 2010

What's with all these cross-dressing comedians in Singapore?

I dressed like a girl and I liked it. I might not have looked as hot as Katy Perry, but I did it just to try it.

My excuse is that I was young, I was in college in the US and I was going to a Halloween party.

I wore lots of eye make-up, some blusher, my girlfriend’s lipstick, her hairband, her black top and her black Fido Dido leggings – plus my own army boots.

The look I was aiming for was scary goth chick, albeit a scarily big-boned, flat-chested goth chick in rather unscary Fido Dido leggings.

Thinking back now, I realised I might have looked like Marilyn Manson – except for those damn Fido Dido leggings which were just dorky.

At least it turned out better than the time I shaved my eyebrows. I mean I could simply change my clothes and wash off the make-up, but it took months for me to grow back those damn eyebrows.

As much as I enjoyed playing dress-up that one time, I’m not making a career comeback out of it. Yes, I’m looking at you, Jack Neo.

What does it say about Singaporeans that some of our most popular comedians are men in drag?

There’s Neo as Liang Po Po and Liang Ximei, Dennis Chew as Aunty Lucy, Kumar as Kumar and Gurmit Singh as Phua Chu Kang.

Wait a minute, you say, Phua Chu Kang isn’t drag. I say he’s wearing a wig, make-up and a costume, he might as well be drag.

When I was working at MediaCorp in the 90s, I was told that it was forbidden to have men dressed as women on local programmes – with the special exception of Neo.

For a while, Kumar was thought to be banned from TV after The Ra Ra Show until it was clarified that he just wasn’t allowed to appear as a cross-dresser. Unfortunately, Kumar out of drag is not as funny as Kumar in drag.

But things change. Today, Chew’s Aunty Lucy is carrying on from where Neo’s Liang Ximei left off.

Both Kumar and Gurmit have played women on Channel 5 in recent years. You would think that cross-dressing is a can’t-miss gag, but the PCK episode where Gurmit did it was among the lowest rated of the series.

So is it a good idea for Neo to play another female character for his next movie, Homecoming, eight years after he last played Liang Ximei on TV?

Comedically, it’s going backwards, but as a marketing ploy, it’s brilliant. The movie won’t be out until Chinese New Year and we’re already talking about it.

The easy joke is that instead of other women, the Cultural Medallion-winning film-maker, scandalised by an extra-marital affair eight months ago, can now have an affair with himself.

But will the new movie be a hit?

Of course, it will – it’s a Jack Neo movie.

But then I said the same thing about the PCK movie. And I thought Fido Dido leggings were a good idea.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 November 2010

Sunday 14 November 2010

Want to lose weight? Just hang out with me - if you're Singaporean

According to the latest National Health Survey, one out of every 10 Singaporeans is obese. According to my latest mandatory employment health screening results, I am overweight.

So if you don’t want to be overweight, just be one of the nine people standing next to me.

In the unlikely event that more than nine people are enjoying my company, don’t worry. With the influx of foreign talent in Singapore, chances are that not all of them are Singaporean, which means statistically, you could still not be obese.

All this is assuming, of course, that you are Singaporean.

If you’re not, you could be the guy who completed his full-time National Service and renounced his Japanese citizenship, but lost his Singapore citizenship because he failed to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty before he turned 22.

Hey, at least he’s not overweight.

I have been fighting obesity for most of my adult life. Sometimes I win, other times I order pizza.

One early victory was due to a simple advice my wife gave me: During meal times, you don’t have to eat until you’re completely full.

This came as a revelation to me.

Before that, I thought I was supposed to keep eating until I was so stuffed that I had to loosen my pants and couldn’t walk anymore – at every meal.

So I stopped doing that (now it’s just every other meal) and lost a few kilograms. But I recently gained them back because I started having meals with other people regularly.

There are two sets of “other people”, one set consisting of my wife and two kids, and the other my colleagues.

The trouble with eating with other people is that other people tend not to finish their food.

This is problematic for me as I was raised by my parents to finish all my food because of the starving children in Africa.

So I can’t bear to see wasted food. So I’m compelled to finish food that other people can’t – even though my belt is already unbuckled and my legs can no longer support me. Hence, my latest medical results.

I was better off when I was single and a loner, but then I wouldn’t be able to experience the joy of fatherhood or have someone "chope" a table for me at the coffee shop.

By the way, that’s another way you could lose weight by hanging out with me – martyr that I am, I would eat your food for you.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 November 2010

Sunday 7 November 2010

Ignoring strange people doesn’t make them go away

Is there ever a need to swear?

Personally, I love to swear, but only with people I know. With strangers, I usually try to be more genteel - that is, until recently.

I was riding the MRT and reading a newspaper when a boy - maybe around eight years old - boarded the train, sat next to me and started tugging at my newspaper.

He asked me in Mandarin which day’s newspaper it was. He wanted me to give it to him.

I was taken aback. Who was this strange boy? Where were his parents?

I looked around, but the boy seemed to be by himself. I could sense that the other passenger also thought he was behaving oddly, but they avoided eye contact with me. No one wanted to get involved.

I ignored the boy, hoping he would go away. It didn’t work.

He kept holding on to a corner of my paper and insisted that I gave it to him.

Finally, I spoke to him, asking him in Mandarin where his mother was.

He couldn’t understand what I was saying and asked me what language I was speaking. So now the kid was making fun of my Mandarin.

I stopped talking. I was getting mad, but I didn’t want to show it. This had become a battle of wills, which I was losing. I should’ve just given him my paper at the start, but to cave now would be to admit defeat.

So I stubbornly read my paper to the very last page and then just let go.

The boy took my paper without a word of thanks and left his seat like he was looking for someone. Just then, the train stopped at a station and he got off. As far as I could tell, he was still alone.

What the hell just happened? I couldn’t believe I let this weird little boy get the better of me.

A few days later, I was looking for something to eat in the basement of Raffles City Shopping Centre when a large Caucasian woman approached me and said: “Konichiwa, can I ask you a question?”

Apparently, I looked Japanese. I could tell she was a promoter with one of those pushcarts selling I-don’t-know-what and I didn’t want to find out.

I ignored her, hoping she would go away. It didn’t work.

She kept following me and insisted that I answer her question. She said: “I’m just a simple Israeli girl who just wants to know where you’re from.”

For a second there, I thought she was going to quote Julia Roberts in Notting Hill.

Finally, I said, “I’m from here,” and she immediately went away.

Huh? That was it? How strange.

Later that same day, I was walking along Bras Brasah Road toward the Singapore Art Museum with a cup of iced Milo in my hand when another stranger approached me.

The man said, “I’m very thirsty. Can I have some of your drink?” and pointed to my cup.

This time, I didn’t ignore the stranger. I said, "Fuck you," and continued walking without looking back.

It worked. He never bothered me again.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 November 2010