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.