Sunday 27 February 2011

Forget Borders, I’ll open my own chain of bookstores

About two weeks ago, Borders Singapore’s Australian parent company, REDgroup Retail, was put into voluntary administration – meaning it is working with an independent body to help pay its creditors.

This led to some hand-wringing over the possibility that Borders might soon not exist within our borders anymore. Is this why Borders is having a massive clearance sale at the Expo this weekend?

The US-based Borders Group has already filed for bankruptcy protection.

I understand the concern. I mean I’m still heartbroken over MPH moving out of Stamford Road back in 2003.

But local book lovers will be relieved to know that according to a statement on its website at last week, Borders Singapore is “not currently affected” by its parent company’s troubles.

In any case, I’m glad I didn’t sign up for the Borders Preferred Card.

Not wanting my emotions toyed with by another bookstore, I’ve come up with my own exciting new concept for a bookstore that’s similar to the Borders Singapore flagship store at Wheelock Place – but bigger, better and cooler.

Like Borders, my bookstore will have a huge selection of books as well as DVDs and CDs (even though as a format, the CD is in its death throes).

Unlike Borders, my bookstore will have not only a wide range of magazines and newspapers, but also past issues of these periodicals. How cool is that?

Like Borders, my bookstore will have a section dedicated to young readers where parents can dump their children and then go elsewhere to shop.

Unlike Borders, my bookstore will have publications not only in English, but also in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Singapore is a multi-lingual society after all.

My bookstore will also provide more plentiful seating than Borders so that customers can sit and browse the merchandise at their leisure before buying.

And if you’re lulled to sleep by the oh-so-comfy furniture, none of my staff will wake you or charge you hourly room rates.

But come closing time, my staff will politely but firmly ask you to hit the road, Jack. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Of course, my bookstore will also have an overpriced cafe like the one in Borders. It wouldn’t be a bookstore without one.

Borders has only two stores in Singapore, the main one at Orchard Road and a branch in Parkway Parade.

I plan to open my bookstores in shopping malls and dedicated buildings all over the island: Jurong, Tampines, Woodlands, Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bishan, Boon Lay, Bukit Batok, Bukit Merah, Bukit Panjang, Hougang, Choa Chu Kang, Geylang, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris, Queenstown, Sembawang, Sengkang, Toa Payoh, Yishun, Victoria Street and maybe even the Esplanade.

It will be the McDonald’s of bookstores!

I will crush my competitors. How? By undercutting them. By how much?

This is where the most revolutionary part of my concept comes in – the books will be free!

How crazy is that?

Customers just have to return the books after reading them. I think a few weeks should be enough time to finish a book.

The name of my bookstore? I’m calling it “the library”.

I hope it will catch on. Borders, beware.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 February 2011

UPDATE: Last Borders bookstore in Singapore to close

Sunday 20 February 2011

Death of the TV licence fee: A Shakespearean tragedy

Friends, Singaporeans, countrymen, lend me your eyes. I come to bury the TV licence fee, not to praise it.

The evil that local TV programmers and producers do lives after them. We all still remember VR Man.

The noble Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam hath told you the licence fees “are losing their relevance”. If it were so, it was the grievous fault of technological progress.

When he announced in his Budget Speech on Friday that the 48-year-old TV licence fee was finally killed, the nation cheered as one.

Why such bloodlust, my fellow citizens? O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason.

Maybe this is why MediaCorp CEO Lucas Chow is quitting.

The TV licence fee is dead. Long live not paying the TV licence fee!

Hell hath frozen over and hogs hath pilot licences.

Never has a government announcement been greeted with such spontaneous celebrations around the island. It was as if Singapore had scored a World Cup goal, which would be another flying pigs moment.

It was the equivalent of tearing down the Berlin Wall, the moon landing and me getting a decent haircut all rolled into one.

Not having to pay that $110 seems to mean more to Singaporeans than the announced hundreds of dollars that the Government will be giving each of us this year.

It’s not that we love the free money less, but that we hate the TV licence fee more.

About a year ago, I wrote a column in response to one of numerous letters to the press over the years complaining about Channel 5 programmes.

The letter writer had asked: “Is this what I get for diligently paying my TV licensing fee on time?”

My retort was: “Does anyone honestly believe that Singaporeans will stop complaining about MediaCorp if the TV licence fee is abolished?”

Of course when I wrote that, I thought the TV licence fee will outlive us all. Without it, what will Singaporeans complain about now?

(That is, apart from the weather, people eating on the train, foreign workers and 2.2 billion other things.)

You all did love complaining about paying the $110 once, not without cause. What cause withholds you then to mourn for it?

Paying the TV licence fee made us feel justified – nay, entitled to bitch about the tired shows we see (or avoid seeing) on MediaCorp TV because dammit, we “paid” for them!

Full disclosure: The TV licence fee was my friend because I used to be a TV producer. It hath brought much funds to the local TV industry, whose ransoms did the MediaCorp executive coffers fill.

So bear with me.

My heart is in the coffin there with the TV licence fee and I must pause till it comes back to me.

Meanwhile, you can watch YouTube on your iPhone.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 February 2011

Friday 18 February 2011

My top 5 favourite MediaCorp CEOs (Who’s the handsomest of them all)

A few days ago, my former employer, MediaCorp, announced the surprise resignation of its chief executive officer, Lucas Chow.

So what better time to count down my top five fave MediaCorp CEOs?

5. Moses Lee

Not to be confused with Moses Lim, the older fat guy in Under One Roof.

Technically, Moses wasn’t a CEO, but the general manager. And it wasn’t MediaCorp at the time, but the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC).

This was back in the early 1990s when the national broadcaster was still a statutory board.

I’ve never actually met Moses, but he is my least favourite because he ended my dream of being Singapore’s Roger Ebert.

I used to be a movie reviewer on a Channel 5 programme called Live On 5 hosted by Gurmit Singh until I was told that the GM wanted me off the air because apparently, I was too contemptuous in my review of a movie he liked.

It was a long time ago, but I think the movie was Robin Hood: Men In Tights

4. Franklin Wong

He was the CEO of MediaCorp Studios in the early 2000s.

The only time I met him was after I had resigned to join SPH MediaWorks and he made a half-hearted attempt to persuade me to stay, but I could barely understand him because of his thick Hong Kong accent.

3. Ernest Wong

He was Lucas’s predecessor and resigned shortly after I rejoined MediaCorp. So I can “earnestly” say I didn’t work under his reign long enough to have an opinion about him.

"Earnestly", get it?

2. Lucas Chow

Hands down, the handsomest CEO that MediaCorp has ever had. His hair should be designated a national treasure.
The longest conversation I had with him was when he asked me for directions to the make-up room.

This was in 2007 just before the filming of the series finale special of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd where Lucas was set to appear to give away a prize. I was the show's executive producer.

He too had a Hong Kong accent, but was a little more intelligible.

1. Lee Cheok Yew

He was my CEO at both the Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) and SPH MediaWorks.

In 2000, I was part of a group sent to Cannes, France, for an international TV trade show. On one of the days there, Cheok Yew, another executive and I rented a car to explore the region. We drove all the way to Monaco.

But the most unforgettable part of the road trip for me was eating some raw seafood and having the most spectacularly explosive diarrhoea of my life when I returned to my hotel room.

Because of this cherished memory, Cheok Yew will always be my favourite MediaCorp CEO.

- Unpublished

UPDATE: Shaun Seow has been announced as the new MediaCorp CEO. His greatest claim to fame is that he is married to former MediaCorp news presenter Zahara Lateef who was jailed for maid abuse in 2000. She now goes by her married name Zahara Seow.

APRIL 2017 UPDATE: Mediacorp CEO Shaun Seow steps down

Sunday 13 February 2011

Compulsory paternity leave? It’s an evil plot against men!

Gentlemen, welcome to the first meeting of the the Association of Men for Action and Research (Amare).

The pizzas will be here in a few minutes. I will try to get this over with before the match starts.

First item on the agenda, former Maxim cover girl and Deal Or No Deal “suitcase girl” Evangeline Tay Su Ann.

Last week, she was fined $2,000 for perverting the course of justice, although I know after seeing her picture, many of you had a different kind of perversion in mind.

Yes, she’s hot. We’re raising money to help her pay the fine in case she loses her appeal (which would be a shame because as it is, she’s very “appealing”). Please donate generously.

Speaking of which, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you want to order flowers for Ms Tay or your wives and girlfriends, write your name and how many flowers on the piece of paper I’m passing around. My brother-in-law can get roses at a bulk discount. So the more you buy, the more you save.

Next on the agenda, last week, our arch-enemy, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), called for the Government to make paid paternity leave of two weeks mandatory.

To put it another way, a bunch of women wants a law to allow men to get out of work for 14 days to stay home and help look after the baby. Yes, I’m horrified too.

Although Aware said it’s about gender equality and reversing Singapore’s declining birthrate, I searched the Aware website and found the real motive behind this call for compulsory paternity leave.

The website said: “Aware would like to see fathers given the opportunity to play a more active role in the care of their newborn babies, not just so that they will share the parenting load with their wives but also so that they will have more time for the joys of fatherhood and for developing a bond with their children.”

Did you hear that? Our enemy wants us to “share the parenting load” with our wives! So basically, this is just Aware’s diabolical plot to get men to do more housework.

I believe I speak for all of us here when I say, “No thanks!”

And what does a women’s association know about “the joys of fatherhood” anyway? They’re women!

It’s time for our voices to be heard. This is the very reason our asoociation, Amare, was formed. We will hold a press conference and...

Hmmm... Wait, I just thought of something.

Why don’t we let Aware have the new law? Before you throw that potato chip at me, hear me out.

But when we take the paternal leave, we just use the two weeks off to watch more football or shop for a bigger TV to watch football on.

Baby? What baby?

We’ll turn our enemy’s evil plan against itself and we don’t even have to do anything!

Oh, the pizzas are here? Meeting adjourned!

Turn on the TV. I hope we didn’t miss kick-off.

- Published in The New Paper, 13 February 2011

Dear Sir,

I have always been a fan of your articles and I must say, I couldn't agree more with your most recent article despite it being written in a half serious manner.

I understand that we have come a long way from the good old days when a man was considered to be helping with the household chores if he lifted his legs while watching television so that the missus could vacuum under him.

Today, it is only natural for men to take a more active role in child rearing and the housework since women work for as many, if not more, hours than men.

However, the shoddily done research and survey by AWARE does not prove that more paternity leave will reverse Singapore's declining child birth rates.

Using their logic, it would be fair for one to assume that colorectal cancer is caused by the courtesy campaign as colorectal cancer rates have skyrocketed suspiciously around the period of time when that annoying lion was introduced and have remained high ever since.

Any sane and reasonable person would come to the logical conjecture that two weeks of paternity leave a year is unlikely to cause women to go into a child producing frenzy.

AWARE's real motive, as you stated, is to promote what they believe to be an ideal of equality between the sexes and also to prove that they are campaigning for women rights instead of just drinking fruity alcoholic drinks, discussing make-up and plotting on how to emasculate men further as most of us already presume.

I cannot understand why the media would give AWARE so much of attention after the not too distant but still painful and embarrassing saga AWARE experienced which by the way not only showcases the hilarious and pointless antics women get up to when they are let out of the kitchen in which two groups of women spent more time fighting each other than focusing on their common goal of empowering women.

If AWARE really believes in equality between the sexes, they should campaign for compulsory military service and caning in prisons for women as well.

Yours Sincerely

PS: In the interest of saving time and preparing you on what to expect, I have included a likely reply from AWARE.
Dear Sir,

We find your article unfair and sexist, not so much because of its content but more so because you are male.

Your article has distracted us from more important activities such as eating chocolate and watching chick flicks.

We hate you. Once again, it's nothing personal, it's just because you are a guy.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Jay Chou’s 'England not so powderful' in The Green Hornet

On Wednesday night, I did what most Singaporeans do on Chinese New Year’s eve – I went to see a movie. In my case, it was The Green Hornet.

Early in the movie, Jay Chou’s character was talking to Seth Rogan’s character about the latter’s father and Chou said something that sounded like: “He was a little bit thick.”

It took me a moment to realise that Chou didn’t mean “thick” and was actually trying to say another word that is a euphemism for penis.

There were many instances like this in the movie where in real life, Chou’s co-stars would be responding with: “What did you say? Can you repeat that? Or write it down? Maybe try sign language.”

Instead, they spent much of the movie pretending to understand what he was saying the first time he said it.

This is even less believable than Chou and Rogen fighting over the affections of an elderly woman like Cameron Diaz, who is at least seven years older than both of them.

Chou’s awkward line-reading was even worse than Chow Yun Fat’s in the third Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and that’s saying something.

The audience snickered every time Chou spoke, made more laughable by his “I’m so cool” posturing.

I felt sorry for him – as much as one can feel sorry for a multi-millionaire international superstar. Has Chou become such a big star that no one dared to tell him that “his England is not so powderful”?

Too bad he didn’t have Zoe Tay’s manager.

A few years ago, when I was working at MediaCorp, there was an attempt to create a sitcom for Tay – for Channel 5.

Yes, that meant the putative “queen” of local Chinese drama would have to speak English – and we all know the “queen’s” English isn’t exactly the Queen’s English.

I actually thought it was a good idea. This was after Tay had guest-starred in an episode of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd which was a ratings success.

But as you can guess from the absence of shows starring Zoe Tay on Channel 5, the project was nixed.

Later, Tay’s manager told me that Tay was sent to take some sort of English test and she did so badly that it was decided her English wasn’t good enough for her to star in an English-language production – even a sitcom. Viewers would be laughing at her for the wrong reasons.

Which is what’s happening to Jay Chou in The Green Hornet.

Still, the movie seems to be doing okay at the box office. So we may be laughing at Chou, but he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

And Zoe Tay? Forget her. What about a Channel 5 sitcom starring Fann Wong? I'm hoping Fann’s England is slightly more powderful.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 February 2011