Saturday 31 March 2012

Yes, Channel 5 sucks - but that's not why it's losing viewers

Yesterday, The Straits Times Life section did a hatchet job... I mean a big story on how Channel 5 is losing viewers: “Daily viewership figure has been dropping, with viewers complaining about lack of good content.”

As someone who has worked on shows for Channel 5 since 1994, I would like to share my reaction to the article.

That Channel 5 is losing viewers is old news. This has been has been happening since the mid-90s. Long gone are the heady days of Under One Roof's first season.

The media environment has changed drastically, from the introduction of cable TV to broadband to Singtel mioTV.

While the housewives will continue to watch Channel 8, the tech-savvy English-language entertainment consumers have moved on from Channel 5.

So the content isn't the problem. The medium is the problem.

The Noose is considered a success, but it has fewer viewers than the last show I produced for Channel 5 in 2007, the comedy Maggi & Me, which was cancelled because of “low ratings”.

I’m told by a MediaCorper that the drama Point Of Entry, which was heavily criticised in the article, actually has more viewers than The Noose.

While the dramas The Pupil and Fighting Spiders were widely praised, the viewerships for the latest seasons of both these shows were very low.

So this idea that the channel is losing viewers because of the lack of “quality” programmes is fallacious since the perceived “quality” programmes often have fewer viewers than the shows people claim to hate.

It's not dissimilar to the movie industry where the critical favourites are seldom the big money makers. Everyone agrees the Transformers movies sucked, but everyone watched them.

Also, Channel 8 viewers complain about Channel 8 shows all the time as well. Yet, its viewership is rising.

If “quality” equals high viewership, then the one-time Arts Central would’ve been the highest rated TV channel in Singapore. And it wasn’t.

I mean how many people actually watched The Million Dollar Job on Okto last Sunday? Or even knew about it?

So the irony is that the more so-called “quality” shows they try to produce, the more viewers they're likely to lose.

Not that I’m suggesting MediaCorp should be producing more crappy shows, of course. MediaCorp is going to do that anyway. But these “crappy” shows may have more viewers than you imagine.

One man's crap is another man's art.

I would also like to point out that the well-regarded dramas, The Pupil and Fighting Spiders, were produced by independent production companies.

Whereas the series that is so bad that it was compared to VR Man, Point Of Entry, is produced in-house by MediaCorp.

So was VR Man, by the way.

But let me tell you VR Man at the time still had more viewers than any show on Channel 5 today!

(Full disclosure: I was part of MediaCorp's in-house production team, but I never worked on VR Man, although I witnessed its painful development.)

But even within MediaCorp, perception trumps actual numbers.

The only numbers that MediaCorp really cares about are those with a dollar sign in front.

Instead of an article about Channel 5 losing viewers, I would be more interested in one about how much money the channel is making - or losing. But those numbers are harder to come by.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but a show with fewer viewers can make more money than one with more viewers. Go ahead, read that again.

If the Government wants to pay MediaCorp half a million dollars to produce and air a series about Total Defence that no one is going to watch, MediaCorp is not going to say no. The show is already profitable before airtime sales.

In the article, there is this one line I think is very significant: “MediaCorp receives government funding.”

More specifically, many of these local shows on Channel 5 - good, bad and low-rated - are at least partially funded by MDA through grants or other means.

Why do you think the MDA logo shows up in the end credits of Point Of Entry?

We may not be paying for the TV licence anymore, but we’re still paying taxes.

I would like to see a public list that shows all the programmes that get money from MDA and how much each one gets.

The economics of Channel 5 has become such that it's increasingly unlikely for a local show to get a green light unless it has some government funding and/or sponsorship.

My point is that if you think Channel 5 sucks and you’re not going to watch it, well, too bad because you’re paying for it anyway.

Another perennial complaint about the channel is the re-running of old movies. This complaint is older than the movies Channel 5 is re-running.

I’ve addressed this issue before. The trouble is there are enough people watching these old movies to justify the low cost the channel pays for them.

But not enough people to justify airing more newer, costlier movies.

It's a vicious circle. As more and more viewers abandon Channel 5, it makes less and less economic sense to spend more money on improving the content.

Those viewers are gone for good.

UPDATE: This is Channel 5's rather feeble and intentionally tone-deaf response to The Straits Times article:

We refer to the article Do You Really Want To Come Home To 5? (Life!, March 30). Here are some additional insights.

Based on Kantar Media surveys, the daily TV Audience Measurement system used by the industry, Channel 5’s primetime daily reach over the past two years has been stable.

Viewers are also consuming our content online. Current average monthly video views on’s Catch-Up TV for local programmes is 65 per cent higher than last year.

Primetime viewership among younger demographics, aged four to 24, has increased.

As a national broadcaster, we reach out to a wide audience base comprising different races and cultures. Channel 5 is committed to bringing to viewers strong local content that is relevant and engaging.

The consistently high ratings of Point Of Entry and We Are Singaporeans show that such content resonates with our viewers.

Factual content that reflects topical social issues are also a priority for the channel.

Ninety per cent of the Channel 5 primetime slate is fresh content. Returning movie titles are carefully planned and aired with a reasonable period between the two telecasts.

The biggest single challenge facing Channel 5 in obtaining quality international content is the intense programming rights competition. Despite this, the channel is firmly committed to scouring international markets for quality content, ensuring that Channel 5 gets a well-rounded slate of good programmes with wide appeal.

Kim Wong-Nathan
Vice-President, Channel 5 Network Programming & Promotions, MediaCorp

UPDATE UPDATE: Playing with numbers: So is Ch 5 viewership up or down?

2013 UPDATE: Top 10 Channel 5 series of 2013

Friday 30 March 2012

Winner: The Poo beats The Great one

I don't mean to scold you, dear readers, but I'm very disappointed in you.

I have urged you to vote for The Great Singapore Penis Panic And The Future Of American Mass Hysteria as the oddest book title of the year at least twice, but you didn't, did you?

You know how I know? Because it was just announced that Cooking With Poo has won the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year award.

The Great Singapore Penis Panic didn't even come in second. The runner-up is Mr Andoh’s Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge.

I'm so upset I feel like beating up someone in a Ferrari.

I'm especially disappointed because my copy of The Great Singapore Penis Panic, which I ordered online, just arrived yesterday.

I was so excited about receiving the book at first, but now I just feel like I bought a loser.

Shame, shame, shame!

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Doggone it, 'dogs' again!

For the second time in two months, a tertiary student is in trouble for making insensitive online comments about a group of people using the word "dogs".

Last month, it was an NUS scholar from China named Sun Xu who posted in Chinese on Weibo that there were "more dogs than humans in Singapore".

Then this week, Nanyang Polytechnic student Shimun Lai sent out this racist tweet below and has since apologised.

I don't get it. Why dogs?

I'm surprised dog lovers aren't up in arms. These two people are insulting dogs as much as they are insulting humans.

Are dogs really the worst animals they can think of? Did they even consider other creatures? Like, say, cats?

What about centipedes? This poor guy lost half his leg because of a centipede bite.

You know what? I blame this guy below.

He is Professor Kong Qingdong from Peking University.

Two months ago, on a Chinese talk show, he reportedly called the Hong Kong people "running dogs for the British colonialists".

He said: "And until now, you (Hongkongers) are still dogs. You aren't human."

The people in HK reacted pretty much the same way Singaporeans reacted to the "dogs" comments by Sun Xu and Shimun Lai.

So it was this professor who started this whole "I'm comparing you to dogs as an insult" thing.

Oh, by the way, he also denigrated Singaporeans on the show, but rather half-heartedly in comparison. He reportedly said that Singaporeans have “no quality” because we rely on laws and fines to keep us in line.

That was it?

Some Singaporeans were "outraged", but hey, it's not like he called us "dogs".

Wait. Did he really call us "piece of shit" as well?

I'm outraged!

Wait. I need a translator to confirm and then I'm outraged!

Wait. This was two months ago. Is it too late to be outraged?

Monday 26 March 2012

Singaporeans bloodthirsty for Ferrari justice

As disturbing as the violence in the Orchard Towers video is, I'm more appalled by the online reaction that the man deserved to be beaten and stomped on.

A typical comment: "Serve the arrogant ferrari driver right,we stand up for (sic) all this SNOBs, whack them if they like to act."

This is wrong. No one deserves to be assaulted like this. Since when did Singaporeans become so bloodthirsty?

(This is also wrong because the man beaten up wasn't the Ferrari driver but the passenger. So he's an "arrogant" Ferrari passenger?)

Apparently, the attack was so vicious that at least two YouTube videos of the incident have been removed because they violated "YouTube's policy on shocking and disgusting content".

And yet YouTube still allows Lady Gaga videos.

Here's the AsiaOne report:
A man who taunted a youth to a fight at Orchard Towers over a Ferrari incident ended up being surrounded and beaten up by the youth's group of friends, according to a report in citizen-journalism website Stomp...

According to various accounts, the fight started when a Ferrari almost hit a pedestrian at the zebra crossing. Stomp reported that the driver of the Ferrari got out of his vehicle after passers-by threatened him.

In the graphic video, the man in white was seen coming down from the steps by the side of the road.

The man then bent down behind the Ferrari, after which another man in red stood up from behind the car. It is not known if the man in red is the driver of the Ferrari.

At this time, a youth clad in grey started spewing expletives at the Ferrari driver.

The man in white then walked forward to the youth, who was being restrained by a female friend wearing a white top and jeans, and kept taunting him.

The friend managed to pull the youth back but the man came up to the duo and started gesturing.

The man and the youth then started throwing punches at each other. Three of the youth's friends came into the picture and started to surround the man, backing him into the wall. At this point, they were just next to Harry's Bar.

Two more youths then jumped in and the entire group was seen raining blows on the man. One youth stood by the side and watched.

The fight was over in less than 10 seconds when the man fell to the ground but the group of youths continued to kick and stomp at the man.

At this point the man in red who appeared earlier stepped forward to try and help but was stopped by the group.

The one-sided fight only ended when the youths were stopped and pulled away by their female friend.

The clip ended dramatically with one of the youths shouting at the passer-by who filmed the incident to delete the clip.

The video is now back on YouTube.

COLUMN: I was driving my Ferrari to Orchard Towers when...

UPDATE: Man jailed six months for involvement in Orchard Towers Ferrari brawl

2014 UPDATE: Another fight outside Orchard Towers. Three arrested.

Saw II - now with pictures! (But not Cleopatra)

It seems that former SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has followed my advice and included pictures in her latest blog post.

Too bad it's not the famous "Cleopatra" pictures, but she does explain the origins of the "Cleopatra" pictures - which turn out not to be of her being Cleopatra after all.

Her explanation:
Last year, we did the haka, and I was told I must agree to be carried in a chair (I guess as a tribal leader). We were all dressed in costumes.

At the ballroom entrance, my sedan bearers, to my amazement, took off their shirts.

Anyhow, the show must go on, so I entered the ballroom, followed the management on stage and did our haka (also badly). It was hilarious!

Unfortunately, a photo was posted by the event company on their website to promote their services. This photo went viral! Following that, some other events were also criticised.

Personally, I agree that we must be sensitive on all matters, especially those which are racial and religious in nature.

As long as we observe such sensitivities, I would do it again, as after all, it was for the staff.

The little we could do to make it fun for the staff and for them to see management as one of them, rather than people on high horses, was why we did the events that way.

Way to show you're not "people on high horses" by riding in on a sedan chair carried by shirtless men. Actual horses weren't available?

Oh, and Ms Saw hasn't followed my advice about changing the sphytty blog name.

UPDATE: She has quit her blog?

Sunday 25 March 2012

Why I'm not getting a maid (again)

So I was hanging the laundry the other day when I thought to myself, "How many more times do I have to this?"

It’s like every time after I hang one batch of laundry, there will be another batch waiting to be hung, if not on the same day, then on another day.

It's as certain as death and taxes. Because everyone wears clothes. And those clothes have to be washed everyday. And those washed clothes have to be hung and dried.

It never ends.

This is not what I imagined my life to be. I’d rather be playing Angry Birds Space.

I mean I have my own Wikipedia page! I’m too important to be hanging up socks and bras.

Getting a clothes dryer is not an option because from experience, I know that a dryer ruins clothes. My beloved Weird Al Yankovic T-shirt is unwearable because of a damn dryer.

I need a maid.

Too bad my mother is getting too old and her leg hurts so much she has trouble standing.

And my wife would rather be playing Words With Friends.

And my teenage daughter refuses to do anything I say.

So I need to hire a stranger to be my maid. And not just a stranger, but a stranger from another country.

And this foreign stranger will have to live with me and my family in my little HDB flat. Awkward.

And then you read in the news about all these maids who kill or steal from their employers. That's even more awkward.

Yet, despite all the headaches (day off or no day off?) and possible death by strangulation, Singaporeans remain addicted to foreign maids like the maids are to their Bangladeshi boyfriends.

Years ago, I once hired a maid from the Philippines to help look after my daughter when she was a baby.

I remember picking the maid up at the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre agency and I instinctively wanted to help her carry her luggage but then wondered if that was the right etiquette.

What if someone took a picture of me lugging my maid's bag behind her and posted it online? My reputation would be ruined.

Right away, I didn't like that having a maid prevented me from being the naturally kind, considerate and helpful human being that I am.

I had to learn to be a lazy, cold-hearted and suspicious boss who expected everything to be done for him at home and treated the maid as a likely liar, thief and child kidnapper.

Which is kind of paradoxical. How could I not trust someone I hired specifically to care for my baby daughter, the most precious thing in my life?

Then I found out that the maid was married even though the agent had told me the maid was single. So either the agent lied or the maid lied to the agent.

It was a minor thing, but the seed of paranoia had been planted.

Then one day in the maid's room, I found a book that belonged to me. She had taken it without asking. The irony is that the book was the Bible.

Yes, I own the Today’s English Version of Good News Bible, which had not been read since Benjamin Sheares was president. Even though it has pictures in it, I could never get past Genesis.

At least she found some use for it. I let her keep it.

But after the lying and stealing, my wife made sure that the maid didn't have pictures of our daughter to send to her accomplices to plan an abduction.

My wife also quit her computer programming job to stay home and watch the maid, which to me, kind of defeated the purpose of having a maid.

But after a horrific incident where the maid scalded my two-year-old daughter’s fingers so badly the skin peeled off, we eventually took the maid back to the agency after employing her for 18 months.

My wife swore never to hire another maid again. She never went back to work and made me hang the laundry.

I just have to accept that I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.

Thank the Bible my wife doesn’t mind indoor drying. That greatly reduces the chances of me falling out a window.

Oh, and she can live with not-so-clean windows.

I wonder how my mother’s leg is doing.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 March 2012


I read your article and it was witty and humorous. Well explained your thought process

Keep writing such articles.


Ps so how is your mother's leg?

Sunday 18 March 2012

'Don't be an idiot' & write about penis panic again

Toilets or sex?

Last week, it was reported that the National Environmental Agency will be increasing the number of toilet inspections at food establishments.

This came after a recent survey conducted by the Restroom Association of Singapore showed that people were unhappy with efforts in keeping toilets clean.

Then came the report that almost half the Singapore men surveyed by the Society For Men's Health said that a man should last 20 to 30 minutes during sexual intercourse.

(Where do these associations and societies come from anyway?)

But the quote of the week must be from the president of the Society For Men's Health: “Singapore men are telling us they expect to be Superman in the bedroom.

“This unrealistic perception of the time between penetration and ejaculation can lead to a range of performance anxieties.”

So I was vacillating between writing about toilets or writing about sex for this week’s column.

On any normal day, sex easily trumps toilets (although in real life, toilets are far more essential than sex).

I mean the Superman quote alone is a goldmine for easy jokes. “Superman? I’d rather be Mr Fantastic, but my wife wants The Hulk.”

But this is not a normal day because for my past two columns, I’ve been going on and on about this thing called The Great Singapore Penis Panic and I’ve been discouraged by more than one person from making it a trilogy.

The trouble with the sex story is that it’s basically about male performance anxiety - in other words, it’s another form of The Great Singapore Penis Panic.

Even the toilet story is kind of penis-related.

The last thing I want is to be accused of being penis-fixated.

Then last Friday night, I was calling home from work to check on the kitchen toilet when my wife (yes, the one who wants The Hulk) said on the phone: “Aiyah, your Gurmit Singh.”

What was she talking about? Yes, I’ve worked with Gurmit several times since 1993, but he’s hardly “my” Gurmit. What did he do now?

“You didn’t see the video?” she said. “Just go to the Internet.”

And so I found the YouTube video called “Gurmit piss off with audience during rehearsal of First XI”.

In it, Gurmit is standing in front of the gallery at a stadium although you can barely see him because he’s so far away. But you can hear him clearly through the sound system as he’s trying to get the seated crowd to stand on cue.

“I can see people not standing up,” he says. “If you don’t want to be part of the trials, please go home. This is a reality TV show. If you can’t listen to simple instructions, then please go home.

“Because of you, we keep doing over and over and over again.”

Later, he says: “So when the captain says, ‘Everybody stand’, please stand up. Don’t be ego, don’t be captain, don’t be an idiot.”

The video was posted in one online forum with the heading “Gurmit Singh tells VOLUNTEERS to go home after he doesn’t get his way!” and another forum as “Gurmit Singh tells spectators at reality show they are idiots - too big for his boots”.

Oh, no! After The Amazing Race, Singapore Idol and Lamborghini ignominy, Gurmit was going to be the nation’s punching bag once more.

That was when I decided that for my next column, instead of writing about toilets or sex, I would defend my Gurmit... uh, I mean my professional acquaintance Gurmit against these unfair criticisms.

But then I discovered something surprising. Despite the baiting headlines, many of the online commenters felt that Gurmit was justified in chiding the uncooperative reality TV show hopefuls.

One wrote: “Lol if it was Gordon Ramsey instead of Gurmit Singh, confirm all the vulgarities come out like river, then he'll cancel the whole thing and ask them come back again another day.”

Others were more amused that the “reality” show was staged.

So I didn't need to step in to defend my Gurmit after all.

I SMSed him for his reaction to the video. He replied he didn't know about the video. So I e-mailed him the link.

He eventually SMSed me back: “It's ok. Leave it be. No comment.”

Is it too late for me to write about my premature ejaculation?

Aiyah, no more space.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 March 2012

Friday 16 March 2012

‘Isaw-isphy’ is a sphytty name for a blog

Dear Ms Saw Phaik Hwa,

Congratulations on starting a blog. That’s so 2004, but hey, better late than never.

Not that I'm an expert on such matters, although as a journalist, I've been writing about the web since 1993 and witnessed the rise and fall of Netscape, Sembawang Media and that screechy noise you hear when you connect to the Internet using dial-up.

I'm still relying on antediluvian Blogger for my own blog, whereas I noticed you're using WordPress. That alone makes you cooler than me (not that it takes a lot to be cooler than me).

Have you tried Tumblr? Apparently, it's more popular than WordPress now. To me, Tumblr is just the picture book version of WordPress for people who are afraid of words.

LiveJournal? TypePad? Meh.

I'm also exploring this other blogging platform called Posterous since Twitter just bought over the company. I'll keep you posted. (Ha! Posterous, posted - get it?)

By the way, since you're leaving SMRT next month, have you considered e-mailing your CV to The Online Citizen (TOC)?

I recently read that TOC website is looking for an editor with "some experience" in writing and blogging. I would've applied, but TOC also wants someone "familiar with Wordpress", which I’m not - but you are.

You should apply since it's advertised as a "paid position". I'm sure TOC can offer you a salary that's close to what you're getting at your current job.

And don't worry about getting lawyer's letters from the Prime Minister and his brother. That's Temasek Review Emeritus, which is a different website.

I’m also impressed that you have your own domain name,, instead of a subdomain name like

That said, what kind of stupid name is “isaw-isphy” for a blog? It’s unpronounceable and so easy to misspell.

I assume it’s a play on your name to mean a philosophy based on what you’ve seen. I think you’re trying too hard.

How about something simple like Or

If you want to play on your name, how about No, that’s also trying too hard.

I know! How about something short and sweet like I just checked - the domain name is still available!

But having a blog is only the beginning. Nowadays, you also need to create a whole social media ecosystem, including a Facebook page and Twitter feed.

If Angelina Jolie’s right leg can have its own Twitter account, you with all your four limbs (unlike one unlucky Thai girl I can mention) should have at least one.

Next, you can join Flickr, where you can upload photos of yourself as Cleopatra at the company dinner.

You can even create your own YouTube channel, where you can post videos of yourself as Cleopatra at the company dinner.

There’s a lot of hype about Pinterest now, but to me, the picture-focused upstart is just for people who find Tumblr too literate. (Most Pinterest users are women.)

That said, it wouldn't hurt to add a picture or two to your blog to liven it up a little.

But you know what’s the most important thing about blogging? You mustn’t quit.

Because that’s what most people do. The web is littered with abandoned blogs.

I mean you’ve already quit one thing recently (being CEO of SMRT). You don’t want it to become a habit, do you?

Yes, I understand that you may be discouraged by the negative comments on your blog, but haters gonna hate.

I particularly like this one, which I shall quote verbatim: “You may look pity, but u cant decline the facts of MRT break down that cause so many problems. U also force PM Lee to cancel his leave, come back to sg and claimed his people down.”

And this one: “why cannot eat sweets in the train and on the platform? why smrt staff stopped me??? eat sweets also cannot???”

Judging by the number of question marks, I'm guessing the last person must have been on a sugar high when he or she commented on your blog.

The best blogging advice I’ve read is that to be a successful blogger, you must have very thick skin. Just look at Xiaxue.

And after the public criticism following the MRT disruption last year, I believe your skin must be thicker than a cable tie by now.

So keep posting! I’m sure Singaporeans are curious to know your reaction to last Thursday's North-East Line disruption.

I’m wondering whether it’s “Wah, lucky I’m not CEO of SBS Transit” or “I think there may be a job opening for me at SBS Transit soon”.

TOC can wait.

S M Ong

UPDATE: She was not Cleopatra

UPDATE UPDATE: She did not apply for TOC

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Has she quit her blog?

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: She has quit her blog

Tuesday 13 March 2012

The meta food-post food blog post

Instead of posting pictures of food, I'm hoping to start a new trend of posting pictures of people taking pictures of food.

Next, I hope to post pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures of food.

Sunday 11 March 2012

How penis panic introduced the world to Andrea De Cruz

Before he died in 1993, my father didn't eat pork and I used to wonder why.

I mean he ate beef, seafood and everything else.

I still recall the times when he thought he might've accidentally eaten some pork and he got very angry.

And yet, he didn't mind me or the rest of the family eating the meat. Very puzzling.

I don't think he was Muslim or Jewish because if he were, then I would be one too.

And it's a good thing I'm not Muslim or Jewish because I pretty much eat anything (except lady's fingers since I eschew cannibalism).

Of course, he could be a secret Muslim like US president Barack Obama, but that's unlikely.

The only thing my father has in common with Mr Obama is that they both can't definitively prove that they were born in America.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, when I asked my mum why dad didn't eat pork, she said it was because of a promise he made to his mother.

That didn't make sense. Why would he make such a promise to my grandmother?

My mum quickly changed the subject.

Now, after all these decades, I may have finally stumbled onto the answer.

Last Sunday, in this column, I broke the story that The Great Singapore Penis Panic And The Future Of American Mass Hysteria was shortlisted for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. The book is written by Dr Scott D Mendelson, a US psychiatrist.

Predating the Great Singapore Sale by some 30 years, the Great Singapore Penis Panic refers to "an epidemic of the psychiatric condition called Koro" that affected hundreds of Singapore Chinese men in 1967. They believed that their penis was shrinking and they would die.

I was shocked that something majorly wacky like this happened in my own country and I didn't know about it.

I joked in a blog post about the book that I'd rather wait for the movie.

Someone claiming to be Dr Mendelson commented: "I have already negotiated film rights for my book... I am considering asking Danny DeVito to play the part of the shrinking penis."

Sorry, doc, DeVito is too Caucasian for the role. How about Jet Li? He's short and now a Singaporean.

Then, after reading my column, a colleague mentioned he vaguely recalled that there was a movie about Koro.

What? How could it be?

After some quick research, I found out he was right.

The movie was Tiger's Whip.

Not only was there a local movie about Koro, but I was once approached to write the script!

The guy who approached me was a smooth-talking self-styled local movie producer named Tony Yeow, who claimed to have met Bruce Lee.

I declined Mr Yeow's offer, but he eventually made the movie in 1998 with local ventriloquist Victor Khoo, who co-wrote and directed it.

I know that sounds even more incredible than The Great Singapore Penis Panic, but it's true.

Tiger's Whip is notable for introducing the world to Pierre Png's future wife and organ recipient Andrea De Cruz and the acting virtuosity of former Singapore Airlines CEO Cheong Choong Kong.

You can watch the full movie in 10 parts on YouTube.

Here's a partial description: "A struggling Hollywood actor, Dick Winner, enters the realm of Asian folklore, philosophy and mysticism, when a rare debilitating erectile dysfunction - Koro - descends upon him.

"A dysfunction so rare, that to date, only one outbreak has ever been documented - in the Far East, in the island city of Singapore."

A barely-remembered flop, the movie seems to mistake Koro for a physical dysfunction when it's actually a psychological one.

That must be why I failed to make the connection with Dr Mendelson's book!

Anyway, as described in the book, during the 1967 Koro outbreak, it was believed that the thing played by Danny DeVito (or Jet Li) was caused by eating pork after rumours that a pig vaccinated for swine fever had died of Koro. Many Singaporeans stopped eating pork all together.

My father was in his 30s at the time. Could it be... ?

But then why did he let me eat pork? Hmmm...

I guess I'll never know for sure, but at least I finally have a working theory.

Now if only I can figure out why my mother refuses to eat beef...

Don't forget to vote The Great Singapore Penis Panic for Oddest Book Title of the Year at

Don't let Cooking With Poo win. That would be a waste.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 March 2012

UPDATE: The Great Singapore Penis Panic loses Diagram Prize


about your article today, I was young then, but since reading your article, I guess that was what happen to my eldest brother (now deceased).

My mother suddenly thought he got shrunken penis and suddenly got great commotion in house and she took him to room and lock up and give him some ginger drink.

My mother also said she also had to used mouth to prevent it from shrinking further. We were quite fascinated then.


Don't panic and remember your towel: On the sidewalk with Douglas Adams

If writer Douglas Adams were still alive, today would've been his 60th birthday.

There's even a virtual birthday party.

The creator of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy died in 2001 at age 49 (not 42).

He was a major influence on me as a writer in terms of use of language and worldview. And I sorta almost literally bumped into him once.

In the early '90s, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, in the US where I went to college.

I was walking on the pavement when this very tall middle-aged white guy with a big nose blocking my way.

We were both trying to sidestep a puddle and did this little tango where we were trying to let the other pass but ended up accomplishing the opposite.

And the whole time we didn't say a word and avoided eye contact.

I think we were both mildly irritated with each other, but we eventually extricated ourselves from the dance-off.

Walking away, I suddenly realised that was Douglas Adams!

I couldn't believe it. What was the probability that in the infinite vastness of space and time, that a writer whom I had obsessed about and I would be on the same sidewalk at the same time?

The Brit was in town to promote his new book Mostly Harmless, "the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy".

I was even planning to go see him do a reading later that evening.

I stopped in my tracks and turned around, wondering whether I should run back to him and shake his hand. But the pavement was icy and I didn't want to hurt myself.

And so I missed the opportunity of a lifetime. I didn't even make it for the reading.

But at least I can say I once went toe-to-toe with the great Douglas Adams.

One small consolation is that I have the autograph of Arthur Dent, the "hero" of the Hitchhiker's Guide series.

In 2005, actor Simon Jones was in Singapore to be in a play. Jones had played Arthur Dent in the original Hitchhiker's Guide BBC radio series as well as the TV series.

He was going to MediaCorp to promote his play and I was working at MediaCorp at the time. I stopped him at the MediaCorp reception and asked him to sign the cover of my DVD boxed set of the TV series.

And here it is:

I should've let him use a marker pen with a finer tip. Belgium!