Sunday 27 November 2011

Will Thanksgiving (or Black Friday) be as big as Halloween in Singapore?

A month ago in this column, I suggested as a joke that since Singaporeans are already celebrating Halloween, we might as well celebrate other American holidays like Thanksgiving which was on Thursday.

At least, I thought I was joking (whether I’m actually funny is irrelevant).

It turned out I was prescient.

Because just over two weeks later, I saw in The Straits Times an ad by local supermarket chain FairPrice Finest with the headline: “Joyful feasting this Thanksgiving”.

Okay, a couple of things.

If I ask my wife for some “joyful feasting” tonight, she would probably say she has a headache.

Another thing is that I think this is the first time I’ve seen an Thanksgiving ad in Singapore.

Sure, it was only one ad and I assume it was just targeted at Americans living here, but this is how it starts. This must be how Halloween first gained a foothold on our formerly devil worship-free island years ago.

Before you know it, local netizens will be calling for the resignation of the CEO of Wildlife Reserves Singapore after she replaces Thanksgiving Turkey Day at Jurong Bird Park with some Deepavali event.

Maybe President Tony Tan Keng Yam will pardon a turkey at the Istana. Maybe Singaporeans will start watching American football.

Okay, now I’m just being ridiculous, I know.

I mean how can I expect Singaporeans to care about a sport played by teams in a country practically half way around the world from us?

(Oh, by the way, how’s Man U doing this season?)

But American football and presidential turkey pardons notwithstanding, I believe that Thanksgiving’s insidious takeover of Singapore is imminent and inescapable, thanks to our fixation with American entertainment and its accessibility through the Internet.

So to get ahead of the game, I decided to practise celebrating Thanksgiving this year by listing what I’m thankful for – and what I’m not thankful for.

For a start, I’m not thankful that Thanksgiving Day was also PSLE Resultsgiving Day.

But I’m thankful that my daughter’s results were good enough to get her into the Express stream.

I am not thankful that my 12-year-old daughter is now getting hooked the Twilight book series.

But I’m thankful that the latest Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn Part 1, is rated PG13, so that my daughter is too young to see it and be spared the vampire sex scene.

I’m also thankful that Sitex is back this weekend, so that I can get a good deal on a new hard drive to replace yet another hard drive that broke down which I bought at Comex earlier this year. Or was it at the IT Show? Maybe it was the PC Show...

But I’m not thankful Sitex is held at Singapore Expo, which is a long way from my home in Choa Chu Kang. Maybe I’ll shop for a new hard drive online.

Which brings me to what I’m thankful for most of all – Black Friday.

Not named after how some 12-year-olds and their parents felt the day after getting disappointing PSLE results, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping season kicks off in the US in earnest.

Ironically, even though Singaporeans don’t care much about Thanksgiving (yet), Black Friday is another matter, thanks to the Internet (again) and the universal appeal of getting something at a discount.

Last week, I saw ads by local companies such as vPost and comGateway promoting Black Friday deals. It’s like the US version of The Great Singapore Sale crammed into a single day with the convenience of online shopping for Singaporeans (thus avoiding getting pepper sprayed).

If you missed Black Friday, don’t worry. Just be thankful for Cyber Monday tomorrow.

So you’ll still have a chance to “feast” on more good deals. Just don’t tell the wife.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 November 2011

Sunday 20 November 2011

Phew! The Great McDonald’s Curry Sauce Crisis of 2011 averted

So McDonald’s stops providing a condiment and the Internet gets into an uproar. Why does it feel like déjà vu all over again?

Let me take you back to 2008.

That was the year when Mas Selamat Kastari managed to disappear and be everywhere at the same time. I wanted to order a Mas Selamat hoodie at, but the shipping charges were just ridiculous.

That was the year when Singapore won its first Olympic medal since 1960 only to have the party ruined by she-who-must-not-be-named.

That was the year when the Grand Prix turned into grand comedy with Ferrari driver Felipe Massa’s hilarious pitstop at Singapore’s first Formula One night race. Loved that dangling hose!

That was the last year when no one heard of Lady Gaga. I miss not having heard of Lady Gaga.

And to the horror of many Singaporeans, that was also the year McDonald’s stopped providing its garlic chilli sauce, replacing it with a sweeter non-garlic chilli sauce.

Oh my gosh, the outcry! The indignation! The cyberstorm in a teacup!

It was as if Wildlife Reserves Singapore had cancelled the Halloween Horrors event.

Or someone had turned Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance into the NDP Fun Pack Song.

Or a radio show caller had told heartlanders to stay out of Holland Village.

Or a soldier was photographed with his maid carrying his backpack.

Let it not be said that Singaporeans are apathetic.

At one point during The Great McDonald’s Garlic Chilli Sauce Crisis of 2008, I counted as many as 14 Facebook groups (the largest had more than 2,500 members) demanding that McDonald's bring back the sauce. An online petition garnered as many as, uh... 20 signatures.

McDonald's response at the time? “Thank you for your feedback... We have a wide range of sauces to complement our menu items and the current chilli sauce provided is in response to meeting our customers' changing tastes.”

I for one was glad the fast food chain finally got rid of its halitosis-causing garlic chilli sauce. At last, I thought, McDonald's was responding to meet my taste.

Unfortunately, the more typical sentiment online was closer to this posting in a forum: “Get a group of friends to wear the same T-shirt that says, ‘Bring back old garlic chili!’ and sit at Mac.

“Once a few people take notice, the whole chain automatically begins. People start to take photos ‘secretly’, upload to Stomp.

"Soon media gets word, people start to voice their views openly, leading to increased awareness and voila! Mac might just bow to public pressure on this.”

Wow, this must be how the whole Occupy Wall Street thing started.

Although I don't recall any media coverage of The Great McDonald's Garlic Chilli Sauce Crisis of 2008, the company apparently must have bowed to pressure of some sort because by the middle of 2009, the garlic chilli sauce was back.

Singapore rejoiced. Now that the crisis was resolved, we could get on with our lives and focus on watching Lady Gaga videos.

It seemed everybody was happy - except me. So I wrote to McDonald's for an explanation.

This was the company's reply: “We recently re-introduced garlic chilli sauce at all our restaurants in response to strong customer preference, and have since received extremely favourable feedback.”

Oh well, I guessed I could live with the garlic chilli sauce - as long as I had the option of getting the curry sauce for my fries (although officially, the curry sauce is meant for the McNuggets).

But even that threatened to change when McDonald's ran out of the curry sauce last weekend. Netizens were outraged. It was like The Great Garlic Chilli Sauce Crisis of 2008 redux.

But last week, McDonald’s moved quickly to avert The Great Curry Sauce Crisis of 2011 by apologising and reassuring Singaporeans that the shortage was only temporary.

This time, it even got some media coverage. And no one had to wear any “Bring back curry sauce” T-shirts.

Meanwhile, I guess the barbecue and the sweet and sour sauces are okay too. And there’s always ketchup.

Just keep the garlic chilli sauce away from me!

You know what? To console myself, I think I'll get the Mas Selamat hoodie after all.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 November 2011

UPDATE: Know your Great McDonald’s Curry Sauce Saga: a trilogy

Sunday 13 November 2011

Will you marry me? (And stay married for more than 72 days?)

When I heard about the guy who proposed to his girlfriend at The New Paper Big Walk last week in front of thousands of other Big Walkers at Resorts World Sentosa, my first thought was: “Spoil market!”

There was also this Malaysian guy who proposed to his girlfriend with a fake Groupon ad online.

And then there was this other guy in Thailand who trained his elephant to write “Will you marry me?” in the sand with its trunk, but the careless quadruped misspelled “marry” as “carry”, causing much hilarity among the girlfriend, zoo visitors and more literate animals.

Okay, I made the last one up, but what’s with these guys making a big production out of popping the big question?

They’re just making it more difficult for the rest of us. Now our girlfriends will have more reasons not to be satisfied with a simple “Let’s a book a flat together” over a greasy plate of char kway teow.

Haven’t we spoiled these women enough? Before you know it, they want extra lup cheong with the char kway teow. Give ’em 2.54cm and they’ll take 1.6km.

The thing is, although we seem to read a lot about these creative marriage proposals, newspapers don’t usually keep track of what happens to the couple afterwards.

Usually (but not always), the woman says yes to avoid embarrassing the guy because of the public nature of such proposals.

It's hard enough to reject someone - or be rejected - without it becoming a YouTube sensation.

Let’s say the woman says yes and goes through with the nuptials, we don’t know how long the marriage actually lasts.

But I suspect a creative marriage proposal - along with a big expensive wedding or an "auspicious" wedding date like 11.11.11 - does not guarantee or even improve the chances for a lasting happy marriage.

Take Kim Kardashian for instance. Her marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries lasted all of 72 days. I have eaten leftovers that lasted longer than that.

How did Humphries propose? He spelled out the words “Will you marry me?” with rose petals. That was pretty creative and romantic.

I repeat, 72 days. If only he had the elephant.

And the wedding reportedly cost US$10 million (S$13 million). I would’ve hated to have to give a hongbao for that wedding dinner.

And now that the celebrity couple have divorced, I don’t think I would’ve gotten my hongbao refunded.

Fortunately, I didn’t give any hongbao for the two local celebrity wedding dinners I attended. (Let’s say I forgot.)

The first was that of Gurmit Singh, who is still married to Melissa. So no refund would’ve been necessary.

The second was that of Mark Richmond and Vernetta Lopez, both of whom have since divorced and married other people. I doubt any of the original wedding guests got their hongbao refunded.

But at least their marriages lasted more than 72 days.

So has mine - and let me tell you, my marriage proposal didn’t involve rose petals, Groupon or Big Walk. But it did involve a big commute.

Before we were married, my wife lived near Katong and I lived on the other side of Singapore in Jurong.

After about a year of dating, she got tired of transversing the island almost on a daily basis and suggested we should get married just to cut the travelling time.

So it wasn’t so much a marriage proposal, but a suggested solution to a logistics problem. I took her suggestion under advisement and eventually agreed to its implementation. Viral videos are not made of this.

But despite the less than reality TV-worthy beginnings, my marriage still outlasted Mark Richmond and Vernetta Lopez’s - and two of Glenn Ong’s. (Touch wood.) I’m now gunning for three Glenn Ong marriages.

So guys, don’t be deterred by all those market spoilers.

Just be reassured that Singapore law requires you to be married for way longer than 72 days before you can file for divorce.

Skip the elephant.

- Published in The New Paper, 13 November 2011

EARLIER: Will Glenn Ong run out of colleagues to marry?

Sunday 6 November 2011

Why I ain’t afraid of no ghost on Pulau Tekong

I know Halloween is over, but let’s talk about ghosts.

Sorry, not ghosts – since there’s no such thing as ghosts – but ghost stories. There are plenty of those. Specifically, army ghost stories.

Now showing in theatres is 23:59, a new local horror movie starring Mark Lee set in Pulau Tekong army camp.

I haven’t watched it, but I bet that at some point in the movie, soldiers see ghosts in the woods.

Why does that sound so familiar?

Perhaps it’s because one of the two stories in The Ghosts Must be Crazy released in January this year was also about soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods.

Ditto one of three stories in Where Got Ghosts? in 2009.

Ditto the 2008 made-for-TV Pulau Hantu, which MediaCorp aired again on Okto only a few months ago.

It’s like a mini movie subgenre unique to Singapore, films about soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods.

I’m old enough to remember one of Channel 8’s earliest dramas, Army Series, which included a memorable episode about, yes, soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods. This was back in the early 80s.

So for almost 30 years now, Singapore soldiers have been seeing ghosts in the woods – at least in TV shows and movies.

But how often does it actually happen in real life?

I doubt that Mindef keeps track of such figures, but I do recall when I was a recruit on Pulau Tekong, I got lost in the woods quite a number of times and during all those times – even the times at night (hated that) – I never saw any ghosts.

What’s more, I was in the notorious Charlie Company of the three-door bunk fame, which I wrote about in a column two years ago.

So instead of me repeating my version of the three-door bunk story, here’s what a reader wrote in response to that column: “My uncle also told me the story, but his version was a bit different.

“He said that the bunk had three doors initially and when the recruit died (they found him with his stomach slit opened and organs arranged out nicely), they needed a place for his corpse.

“So they put his body back onto the bed where he used to sleep, which was the bunk with three doors.

“Because spirits only know of two doors... his spirit was stuck in the bunk. After the sightings and haunting, someone invited a Taoist master and he suggested locking the third door so that the spirit could leave.

“My cousin said that the padlock is still there and very rusty.”

I can testify under oath that I have seen the three-door bunk and rusty padlock, but I can’t vouch for the rest of the story.

So how did I manage not to see any ghosts during my three months in Charlie Company on Tekong despite getting lost in the woods as often as I did?

I credit my mother.

Just before I went into the army, she gave me some unexpected advice. Actually, it was more like a specific instruction, which she made me promise to follow.

She told me that before peeing in the woods, I must always first apologise to the person who might be buried at the spot where I’m peeing.

Okay, a couple of things.

First, I found it awkward to be discussing urination with my mother. Yes, I know she used to change my diapers, but I was much, much, much shorter then.

Second, why did she assume that I would be peeing in the woods? Being extremely shy, I would be more likely hold it until I return to civilisation.

I would’ve felt more reassured if her advice was “If you ever feel the need to pee in the woods, don’t. People may see you.”

Also, since the woods is vast enough for me to get lost in, what are the chances of me peeing at the exact spot where someone is buried?

Why would people be buried in the woods anyway? I believe we have cemeteries for that.

And since people buried in the woods are probably dead, I didn’t think they would notice being urinated on or hear my apology.

But a promise is a promise.

I did as my mother instructed and thus avoided pissing off any spirits (so to speak).

Instead, I’m haunted by too many local movies about soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods.

How about a horror movie about Bedok Reservoir?


I want my mummy.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 November 2011