Sunday 29 May 2011

Singapore cool or boring? Stop feeding the CNNGo trolls

“Engage the trolls.”

So urged my ex-The New Paper colleague Ng Tze Yong in a column in The Straits Times on Vesak Day.

His advice totally goes against an old (by Internet standards) Internet adage: “Don’t feed the trolls.

So which advice should you heed?

In the first place, what are “trolls”?

We are, of course, not talking about those giant CGI creatures in the Lord Of The Rings movies, but the all-too-real ones you encounter online that can be even nastier.

Oxford defines a troll as a person who writes "a provocative email or posting intended to incite an angry response".

The recommended way to deal with a troll is to ignore him or her and the troll will get bored and go away.

But the troll must first be identified so that you’ll know to ignore the troll.

I believe I have just spotted a troll, but I fear I’m already too late.

Elaine Ee is a troll.

Who is Elaine Ee? you ask.

Ms Ee wrote an article for titled “The top 10 most boring things to do in Singapore”.

Her odd grabbag list includes “having dinner at the airport”, “daycamping at East Coast”, “indulge in a spot of gambler watching” and a few stock gibes at Speakers' Corner, shopping centres and local media.

(Elaine Ee declined to be interviewed by The New Paper.)

She introduced her list with: “Old habits die hard, in spite of Singapore’s efforts to shed its boring image, a lot of what happens here remains, well, boring.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

Whether you agree with her is irrelevent.

Yes, she’s entitled to her opinion, but you don’t write something like that and not expect a angry response from Singaporeans – all to drive traffic to

(The website has pulled similar stunts elsewhere.)

And it worked.

Posted on April 19, the article provoked enough online discussion that The Sunday Times reported it more than a month later, giving the website publicity and credibility it didn’t deserve.

Even today’s The New Paper On Sunday is jumping on the bandwagon by roping in actress-entrepreneur Irene Ang to rebut Ms Ee’s list item by item.

Hell, even I’m writing about it.

So why are we engaging the troll when we should be ignoring her?

According to Tze Yong, “for every troll who attacks you, there are 99 observers watching silently”.

Hence, we should “engage the trolls, but in a way that can win over the 99 bystanders”.

So all you silent bystanders out there, have you been won over yet?

If you earlier agreed with Ms Ee that Singapore is boring, you think Ang's “rebuttal” would change your mind?

Back in January, another CNNGo article by a different writer listed Singaporeans as the world's second “coolest” nationality, which also elicited some local press coverage because no one could believe it – even Singaporeans.

So Singapore is both “cool” and boring?

CNNGo should at least try to be consistent in its trolling and make it less obvious that it’s just throwing up random lists to get a rise out of people.

Remember this is the same website that listed Ris Low as someone “Who Mattered Most in Asia 2009”.

Just because it has the three letters CNN in front of its name, people actually take this site seriously.

Hey, I want to be a troll too! If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Singapore men are the sexiest in the world!

There, I’ve said it and I’m standing by it.

You’re going to ignore me, aren’t you?

Well done, grasshopper, I've taught you well.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 May 2011

Friday 27 May 2011

'Smooth'? Public transport not so picture-perfect

A minister taking the bus?

Maybe that crazy Harold Camping was right – the world has ended.

Maybe we’re now living in a post-apocalyptic alternate universe where cats chase dogs, “family man” footballer Ryan Giggs sleeps with strippers and millionaire Cabinet members have figured out how to use the ez-link card.

That's the only way I can explain the photo of new Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew reading a newspaper on a public bus that surfaced last week.

On the front page of the paper he was reading was a story related to the review of ministers’ salaries. The joke was that Mr Lui was switching to public transport in anticipation of a paycut.

Regarding the photo, Mr Lui wrote on his Facebook page: “The journey was smooth at that time of the morning.”

“Smooth” is how I would describe my baby-soft skin, that song by Santana featuring the lead singer from Matchbox 20 and a nice cold smoothie blending the two.

But a ride on a public bus? Unlikely.

My Facebook comment would more likely be: “Why do people insist on standing near the exits when they’re not alighting and block the way of alighting passengers? Because they’re inconsiderate idiots!”

I might or might not use the word “horrified” which was how MP Lim Biow Chuan described how he felt about waiting an hour for a bus last week.

At least Mr Lim’s experience more accurately reflects the waking nightmare that hundreds of thousands of commuters have to endure everyday.

Which is more than can be said of the Public Transport Council (PTC) review released last month (just before the election), which declared that both SBS Transit and SMRT Buses had met all of PTC’s Quality of Service standards. A perfect score.

Since then, Mr Raymond Lim has been replaced as Transport Minister by Mr Lui.

Perhaps PTC should raise its standards.


But what will most likely be raised later this year are the bus and train fares.

In January, PTC announced that it “has decided to defer this year’s fare review exercise to the fourth quarter of 2011 to coincide” with the opening of two more phases of the Circle Line.

“Fare review exercise” is , of course, code for fare hike – unless you expect the transport companies to look at the current fare prices and say: “Hey, we’ve made enough money for our stockholders. Let’s lower the fares as a surprise present for the public we serve.”


Here’s a suggestion: Instead of raising fares, do away with those annoying and futile commuter courtesy campaigns starring Dim Sum Dollies, Phua Chu Kang or other local entertainers.

I don’t want Michelle Chong as Barbarella urging me to move inside in her mock SPG accent anytime in the near future.

Take the budget for that and spend it on buying more buses and trains. If the sum is not enough, use the money that would be saved from the ministers’ paycut – sorry, I mean “salary review”.

Then maybe one day, all our bus journeys will be as “smooth” as Mr Lui’s.


- Unpublished

UPDATE: Lui says more buses a-comin'

Sunday 22 May 2011

Waiter, there’s a corpse in my water tank

So how often do you wash your bath towel?

For the purpose of this column, I googled this question and found that most of the answers range from “every day” to “once a week”.

But my favourite answer is “when it smells”.

I’m not proud to admit that I usually don’t wash my towel for weeks – or is it months? I mean, who bothers to keep track of this sort of thing?

I have more important stuff on my mind.

Like whether Singapore’s new Cabinet will have the right mix of experience and fresh perspectives to meet the challenge of addressing the concerns of an increasingly demanding electorate.

And whether I should see the new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie in 2-D or pay extra for 3-D.

Anyway, I have been using my current towel for so long that members of my family are now referring to it as the “corpse towel”.

Apparently, it stinks like a dead person.

My retort to them: Hey, at least I didn’t shower in “corpse water” like the residents of Block 686B Woodlands Drive 73.

By now, of course, people around the world know about the dead body found in the rooftop water tank of that unfortunate Woodlands block last week.

Some foreign news outlets ran the story with the headline “Singapore locals cook with corpse water”.

Now there’s an idea for Violet Oon’s next cookbook – Peranakan corpse water recipes.

The residents should count themselves lucky. At least they weren’t attacked by a ghost in the bathtub like in the movie Dark Water (both Japanese and Hollywood versions, although the former is better), which also featured a corpse in a water tank.

But I am in awe of brand new Member of Parliament Vikram Nair, who went to the block and made a video of himself bravely drinking the water straight from the tap to prove that the water is now safe.

But what I really want to see is what he did after he drank the water.

Did he rush to the toilet once the camera was turned off? Was there any vomiting and/or diarrhoea? Was there an exorcist on stand-by?

No, wait, that’s another movie.

If this had happened three weeks earlier, it would've been a major election issue: "We don't care about the rising cost of living or high ministers' salaries! We just don't wanna drink no stinking corpse water!"

It's all psychological.

That’s why our Government had the foresight to prepare Singaporeans for just such a crisis by introducing Newater to us years ago.

Surely, drinking corpse water can’t be much worse than drinking recycled sewage water.

No, wait, I take that back – it’s much, much, much worse! Newater is at least clear. The corpse water was reportedly “slightly yellow and frothy”.


Fortunately, no corpse has been found in the water tank at my block so far, so I can shower without fear.

Now if only I can find my towel. I hope my family haven’t buried it.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 May 2011


Just wanted you to know I really enjoyed your corpse water article. And I totally get your corpse towel issue! Err.. so was it buried or cremated?


MY REPLY: I suspect my family might have buried my towel at sea like Osama.

UPDATE: Water tank at Woodlands Block 686B removed

Sunday 15 May 2011

What I learned from the election (Or can I buy insurance for friendship?)

Everyone is talking about the watershed election we just had – in the sense that the weather was so hot during the election, you wished you were in a shed filled with water.

Because of the General Election, I learned a few surprising things

One is that Choa Chu Kang is spelled “Chua Chu Kang” when referring to the constituency. Almost everywhere else – road signs, MRT station, columbarium – it’s Choa Chu Kang.

But it’s Chua Chu Kang for the community club, primary school and secondary school. Confusing much?

And just my luck, I live in Chua Chu Kang – or is it Choa Chu Kang?

Maybe I should just move to Yishun. Or is it Nee Soon? Alamak.

Another thing that surprised me was how randomly Singapore’s first “social-media election” could create an online celebrity literally overnight.

I mean I understand why slender young female candidates like Ting Pei Ling and Nicole Seah would get so much attention, but Yam Ah Mee?

Huh? Who? What? Can I get that dry with chilli?

Persuant to what Andy Warhol said about everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame, I declare “Yam Ah Mee, Returning Officer Extraordinaire” the William Hung of GE 2011.

I just read that Jack Neo wants Seah and Yam in his next movie. Wasn't William Hung in a movie too?

Thanks to the election, I also learned that there's such a thing called the Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore.

Last week, its president, Mr Tommy Wee, wrote to The Straits Times: “We are disturbed by Senior Minister of State (Education and National Development) Grace Fu’s comments during a rally speech at the Jurong East Stadium, in which she likened opposition parties to insurance agents who show up once every five years.”

The next day, Ms Fu expressed “regret” if her analogy “had caused unhappiness”.

What about my unhappiness? Five years? I haven't seen some of my insurance agents for 15 years!

The sad part is that these people used to be my classmates and NS buddies. I thought we were friends, but after they became insurance agents, I was just a dollar sign to them.

I would buy a policy just to stop them from always trying to sell me something – and then I never saw them again.

Knowing this, I made one guy buy me a meal each time I met him to pay my monthly premium.

This is to ensure that I do see him again, cut into what little profit he was making off me and, of course, get free food.

But after a few months, I finally agreed to pay by Giro when I got tired of seeing his tulan face every month – despite enjoying the free food.

In his letter, Mr Wee hoped that Singaporeans “will not have a tainted view of the insurance industry because of Ms Fu's disparaging remarks”.

He needn’t have worried. My tainted view of the insurance industry is because of the number of friendships it has ruined.

I can’t wait for the next election for more edification.

- Published in The New Paper, 15 May 2011

Sunday 8 May 2011

Phone books? People still use phone books?

Dear Yellow Pages,

In the midst of an eventful week that began with the apparent demise of the universe’s most hated man (Loki in the movie Thor and yes, I saw the post-credits scene) and culminated with a not-too-surprising voting result (Jacob Lusk is out of American Idol), I found a few unexpected things left outside my door apart from the usual flyers from caterers, pizza companies and grinning property agents.

One was the new 2011 Ikea Bedroom catalogue, which was rather timely.

I had just seen the movie Thor, which got me in the mood for all things Scandinavian.

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to Ace Of Base, digesting Swedish meatballs and putting off reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Another thing I found outside my door was something called “A Special Petir GE 2011 Pullout” with the People’s Action Party logo on the cover.

Being the savvy social pundit that I am, I suspect it had something to do with the election (but please don't boycott me if I'm wrong).

Also going immediately into the recycling bag was the Yellow Pages consumer buying guide 2010/2011, which is the reason I’m writing to you.

I still remember once upon a time when every year, you made me trod out to some out-of-the-way location to collect these massive phone books that carnival strongmen could tear in half to prove their prowess and a truly talented actor could read out loud and make interesting.

Then I realised I hardly ever used these weighty tomes except as a place to put my telephone.

Eventually, I stopped going out of my way to pick them up when I discovered I could simply put my phone on the table.

After that, I managed to carry on quite happily without a giant phone book in my life.

Then in recent years, you started sending your phone books directly to my home and frankly, I now regard them as junk mail. Very thick junk mail.

I believe you've heard of something called the Internet because you have a website at which lets my fingers do the clicking.

As with other junk mail, I'm sure there are some people who will actually find your hard-copy phone directory useful, but I'm not one of them.

I find the pizza flyers more useful.

So please stop sending your phone books to those of us who didn't ask for them.

I thank you on behalf of the earth. I know you're the Yellow Pages, but being green can also be a good thing.

Next on the playlist: Abba, of course.

Best regards,
S M Ong

- Published in The New Paper, 8 May 2011

Sunday 1 May 2011

iPad 2 released same day as my Grow & Share Package - coincidence?

What an exciting Friday I had - and I'm not just talking about the royal wedding, to which I was inexplicably not invited.

That was the day my Grow and Share Package was deposited into my bank account, even though the notification letter had said the money wouldn't be in until today, which is May Day.

It would've been the closest I would ever get to a May Day Award.

But I got my Grow and Share Package two days early! Woohoo!

It was even more exciting than Nomination Day, which was the day the trailer for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 was finally released online.

This time, the movie (premiering in July) better be in 3D as promised in the trailer. Without 3D, how will we be able to fully appreciate the woman that Harry Potter star Emma Watson has grown into?

I’m so happy to get the free money from the PAP Government that if Polling Day were today, I would vote for ...

Actually, I wouldn't know who to vote for because I would be too confused by the sudden change of Polling Day. Isn't it on Saturday?

Three weeks ago, I wrote a column wondering how I should spend my $700 Grow and Share Package and concluded that I would get the Apple iPad 2 even though it wasn’t available in Singapore yet.

Well, Apple has finally released the iPad 2 here – on the same day I got my Grow and Share Package!


Or an insanely great marketing plan?

Like Michelle Chia, I want the white one. Thankfully, I don’t have to divorce Shaun Chen to get it.

The cheapest iPad 2 is priced at $668, which means I will still have enough left over from my Grow and Share Package to get both the Tin Pei Ling and Nicole Seah sushi rolls.

I wouldn’t mind seeing them in 3D, if you know what I mean. I’m talking about the sushi rolls.

But since I don't intend to spend all my remaining $32 on sushi rolls no matter how comely they are, I will still have few bucks left.

Being a big fan of the MRT jingles by Dim Sum Dollies Selena Tan and Pam Oei, who last week appealed on their Facebook pages for people to help a group of would-be independent candidates pay for their election deposits, maybe I can donate my last remaining dollars to them.

No, wait, I just realised I’m four days too late – just as they were 30 seconds too late.

But with all this election talk about the rising cost of living (and the iPad 2 being sold out), I’m now having second thoughts about blowing my Grow and Share Package on such non-essentials.

So I've decided to save my money and spend it wisely only on something I really really really need.

I’m getting the white iPhone.

- Published in The New Paper, 1 May 2011

UPDATE: Slight delay in some 'Grow & Share' cheques