Sunday 29 April 2012

Ban the Internet, problems solved?

Over a week ago, the most grizzled of The New Paper’s editors, Mr Santokh Singh, walked by my desk in the newsroom and paused.

Alamak. What had I done this time?

Or was he going to needle me again about “humblebragging” about my inaccurate Wikipedia page in my column? (I contend that I was outright bragging bragging.)

He didn’t, which was a relief.

Instead, he said he had an idea for my next column. I was surprised and touched that he cared.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had already written my next column about how I lost my heart to the KFC Zinger Double Down burger (in more ways than one).

Instead, I braced myself for his idea.

He said my next column should be about banning the Internet.

Oh. As long as it wasn’t anything insane - like banning the Internet.

Think about it, he said, all these problems we were having wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Internet.

I didn’t ask specifically what problems he was referring to because I didn’t want the conversation to go on longer than necessary, but I can guess:

1. If there were no Internet, there would be no online vice syndicate and there will be no one getting charged with having paid sex with a minor.

No, wait, a 56-year-old man was convicted last week for having sex with an underage prostitute who actually had nothing to do with the online vice syndicate. He met the girl the old-fashioned way - in Geylang.

2. If there were no Internet, there would be no YouTube, Facebook or Twitter and there will be no insensitive videos, status updates or tweets to go viral for people to get upset about.

Last month, my daughter insensitively dismissed all 22,401 songs in my iTunes library as “old music” - to my face. I was deeply upset by that.

(I pointed out I have Pink. My daughter said: “That’s what I mean!”)

So I’m not sure whether Mr Singh was earnest about doing away with the Internet or was deliberately being hyperbolic to make a point.

It’s like suggesting we ban motor vehicles because people keep getting killed by them. We’ve accepted that a few traffic fatalities (and polluting the planet) are a fair price to pay for convenience. Road users just need to be more careful.

I mean, what’s the alternative? Take the MRT? That’s funny.

I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I believe more people are killed by cars than by the Internet. So you can conceivably make a more convincing case for banning motor vehicles than banning the Internet.

But then again, cars have been around much longer than the Internet.

Unlike for those of you under 30, a world without the Internet isn’t so far-fetched because being over 30 (and then some), Mr Singh and I used to live in one.

I’m reminded of writer Douglas Adams’ observation that your attitude toward technology is determined by the age at which you first encounter it. To wit:
1. Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal.

2. Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn 30 is incredibly exciting and creative, and with any luck, you can make a career out of it.

3. Anything that gets invented after you’re 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it - until it’s been around for about 10 years, when it gradually turns out to be all right, really.

The Internet became mainstream in the late 90s, which based on my calculations, was long after Mr Singh turned 30.

And although the Internet has been part of our lives for more than a decade, social media is a relatively new thing, so I can see how It may seem like a sign of the apocalypse for Mr Singh.

As for me, I think we would be worse off without the Internet because:

1. If not for the Internet, we would see devastatingly fewer cute cat photos.

2. We wouldn’t know what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong eats for dinner.

3. Most important of all - especially to a couple of newspaper guys like Mr Singh and myself (but not that kind of couple) - if not for people doing stupid things and other people sharing them on the Internet, The New Paper would have very little news to print.

And if the world does end - to quote Douglas Adams again - don’t panic and just remember your towel.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 April 2012

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Beware the savage roar ... of 1983?

A new eatery opened at Yew Tee last month called 1983.

Yes, the name is a number. The number is a year. This is taking the retro theme too far - or not far back enough. I would get it if it were 1988 (double fortune), but why 1983?

Is it because the final episode of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return Of The Jedi, was released in 1983?

Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Every Breath You Take also came out that year. I was half-expecting to hear Karma Chameleon playing inside.

To me, 1983 is just too... modern.

For nostalgic purposes, I would pick a year that at least pre-dates the personal computer and VCR. Like a year in the 60s, like say 1965 (Singapore's independence) or 1969 (Woodstock), although I understand 69 has a another meaning.

Even a year from the 70s would've been okay as long as it's before punk and disco, like say 1971. Imagine.

What year would you choose?

As it turns out, there's a story behind 1983, according to the plaque below.

Apparently, someone named Ah Goh opened a popular nasi lemak stall in Singapore that year, hence the name.

No surprise then that the signature dish at 1983 (not owned by Ah Goh, I assume) is the pandan nasi lemak, which I have to admit is pretty good, mostly because of the fried chicken and fragrant rice.

I also like the beef rendang, which reminds me the canned spice pork cubes I used to love when it was only $1.15 a can. Now it's like double that.

But whatever meat dish is below kind of sucks.

The food is at least an improvement over Pick & Bite, the previous tenant at this location.

What if Ah Goh had started his stall a year later? 1984 has a very different connotation.

UPDATE: On 8 July 2012, my wife ordered butter toast at 1983 and got mouldy bread.

So we're boycotting the place.

FEBRUARY 2014 UPDATE: 1983 shuttered.

Sunday 22 April 2012

KFC Double Down - as bad for you as an underage hooker?

So do you eat to live or live to eat?

Mostly, I just eat to live to stave off starvation, but occasionally, I eat to eat to stave off boredom.

For me, eating has pretty much become another unpleasant necessary routine akin to breathing, visiting the toilet and putting on pants before going to work.

The only periods in my life when I truly looked forward to meal times were during my in-camp training, my 10 days in a mental health hospital and that one night I spent in jail simply because there was nothing else to look forward to (except getting out of the place).

There’a misconception that I love food. What I love is free food, an important distinction.

I would force myself to eat any food that's free even though I may not really care for the food.

But considering the problem of obesity and the health hazards in just about everything we eat, even if I do “live to eat”, I would be ashamed to admit it. It would be like admitting to patronising an underage prostitute.

Which is why I'm surprised that there are people – they call themselves “foodies” – who proudly proclaim that they “live to eat” and pity those who don’t share their joy for food.

Maybe it’s because Singapore brands itself as a shopping and food paradise, thus promoting materialism and over-eating as virtues.

Where greed and gluttony should be sins, conspicuous consumption is celebrated. (Lust is still a sin, but that's a whole other can of whores.)

Shopaholics waste money, but food addicts are also risking their health.

And even I, the paragon of self-restraint, am not immune to temptation. Every now and then, something comes along that gets me excited about food again.

In 2008, it was Burger King's BK Quad Stacker, which had four layers of beef patty and cheese with bacon inside a sesame seed bun.

It was sold at the same time as McDonald's Mega Mac, basically the Big Mac with twice the beef.

To construct my own ultra burger, I merged the BK Quad Stacker and the Mega Mac to create one epic eight-patty monster I called the Mega Octo Stacker Frankenburger! (Cue thunder and lightning.)

It was a little messy, but I fed my family for two days with it.

During the 2010 World Cup, I was awestruck by Pizza Hut’s Goooal! Splitza – a pizza in the shape of a football field.

But it was a bit of a letdown because the actual pizza resembled a football field that had been the site of a particularly violent match in the rain during a mudslide.

Then last week, in conjunction with The Avengers movie, KFC finally launched its fabled Double Down burger in Singapore, calling it “the mightiest burger ever assembled”.

I’m officially more excited about the burger than the movie.

Introduced in the US in 2010, the KFC Double Down arrives on our shores in the form of turkey bacon, sliced cheese and mayonnaise sandwiched between two crispy Zinger chicken fillets.

No buns. It doesn’t even have the pesky lettuce that comes with a regular Zinger. That’s commitment.

So I rushed to the nearest KFC outlet and got my hands on the only burger worthy of being compared with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk combined.

(Hawkeye and Black Widow are the whipped potato and coleslaw respectively. Nick Fury is the drink. Loki is the straw.)

But having been disappointed before – the BK Quad Stacker tasted too beefy and the Goooal! Splitza tasted like any other Pizza Hut pizza – I tried not to get my hopes up too high.

And then I took my first bite of the Zinger Double Down – and immediately succumbed to the superhero crunch unmuffled by bread.

It was everything I imagined it would be.

If I were in Thailand, I would definitely order it from KFC after hurrying home to follow the earthquake news.

I know a burger with two pieces of deep fried chicken meat as “buns” is as bad for me as the buns of an underage prostitute, but the pleasures are undeniable.

Living to eat is one thing, but eating this burger could literally stop you from living.

I only regret that I have but one life to give for the Zinger Double Down.

When I end up in hell and the Devil asks me if it was worth it, my answer will be:

“Blame it on the Avengers.”

- Published in The New Paper, 22 April 2012

UPDATE: How 'Max' is the new KFC Zinger Double Down Max?

Sunday 15 April 2012

I didn't feel the Earth move under my feet

Hands up those of you who sang to yourself “I feel the Earth move under my feet” by Carole King when you read the news about people in Singapore experiencing tremors during the earthquake near Sumatra last week.

Okay, those of you with your hands up, get out of here!

You’re old and ruining what little street cred I have by reading this blog. The song is from 1971, for chrissake!


You’re scaring away my One Direction-listening youth demographic.

You’re so ancient you probably think The Stone Roses are floral sculptures.

No, wait, you would also think the same thing if you're under 30.

Let me try another one: You're so ancient you're probably lamenting the closure of Rediffusion at the end of the month.

Here’s a quick test:

When you learnt that Rediffusion is shutting down after 63 years, what was your reaction?

1. “So sad.”

2. “Rediffusion is still around?”

3. “What is Rediffusion?”

If your answer is other than No. 3, please go collect your CPF and blow it all at a casino right now. If you hurry, maybe you can catch Wicked before the musical ends its run at Marina Bay Sands next week. Wear a bib in case you drool after falling asleep during the show.

To prove my point, I asked my 15-year-old son what he thought Rediffusion was.

“Physics?” he ventured.


“I heard the word ‘fusion’.”


No, I said. It’s an actual thing you can have in your home.

“A lamp?”

Uh... try again.

“Is it the iPad?”

That doesn’t even make sense. You mean after Steve Jobs died, Apple just went nuts and decided to rename the iPad “Rediffusion”?

“It’s not?”

Maybe something fell on my son’s head during the earthquake.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense and earthquakes, I read that during Wednesday’s Indonesian earthquake, tremors were reported in the Central Business District, Ang Mo Kio, Serangoon North, Geylang Bahru, Marine Parade, Woodlands, Bendemeer, Punggol, Hougang, Beach Road, Bukit Panjang, Farrer Road, Whampoa, Selegie, Siglap and Toa Payoh.

Fish tanks shook and buildings were evacuated.

There were tremors at all these different places? Really? Seriously? That’s pretty much all over Singapore.

I’m no seismologist (or physics nerd like my son), but then wouldn't almost everyone on the island have felt the tremors?

I was at the SPH News Centre in Toa Payoh during the earthquake and all I felt was a rumbling in my stomach after eating too many oily sardine puffs from the canteen.

Here are a few possible explanations for what some people thought were tremors from the earthquake:
  •  White men stampeding to the sperm bank to withdraw their sperm after reading in The New Paper that plus-size comedienne Michelle Tay would prefer a Caucasian sperm donor.
  •  The aftershocks of US$1 billion of Facebook’s money landing on Instagram’s lap. For years before Instagram was invented, I re-created some of Instagram’s photo effects simply by using a very cheap camera and being a lousy photographer. As usual, I was ahead of my time.
  •  We’re being attacked by the aliens from the movie Battleship and only Taylor Kitsch can save us. Wait, isn’t that the guy from John Carter? We’re doomed! Wait, there’s Rihanna. We’re doomed!
  •  The heavy last breath of a 63-year-old medium long past obsolescence. Yes, I’m talking about Rediffusion again. But kudos for outlasting Elvis Presley, the rotary phone and two Glenn Ong marriages.
The pager, which surprisingly is still around and coincidentally will also be finally euthanised at month's end, is a punk compared to old man Rediffusion.

Understandably, some of the not-so-young and nostalgic among us wish that Rediffusion (but not the pager) could be saved, but to quote something else that my son has never heard of - Carole King:

It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late.

Alamak. There goes my youth demographic.

- Published in The New Paper, 15 April 2012

PREVIOUSLY: April is the cruelest month for obsolescent tech

UPDATE: Rediffusion on 'air' again

Friday 13 April 2012

A billion-dollar picture?

I took my first and so far only picture with the Instagram app yesterday.

I believe I was in the toilet when this was taken.

Now I can see why Facebook bought Instagram for US$1 billion.

You can't tell from the picture that I'm in the toilet at all.

I'm hoping to use this for my passport photo.

You think they'll let me?

Tuesday 10 April 2012

I'm back on AsiaOne! Thanks to VR Man

I don't know how they choose, but I haven't been picked by AsiaOne to be featured on the website for a while.

So I was pleasantly surprised and amused to discover that my VR Man column from The New Paper on Sunday is in AsiaOne's Showbiz section.

What's more amusing is that AsiaOne credits the VR Man photo to TCS.

Is the Television Corporation of Singapore still around?

I get very little feedback at work, so being on AsiaOne is like a virtual pat on the back. It means that somebody read my work and thought it was interesting enough to reproduce it online.

It seems to be happening less often now.

(UPDATE: My next three columns after VR Man have also made it to AsiaOne. Four in a row! Woohoo! When it rains, it pours... then comes the drought again.)

Because I have nothing better to do, I decided to find all my articles that are on AsiaOne and compile the links below.

(If you also have nothing better to do, you can compare the published articles with the uncut versions on this blog and see if you can spot the censorship... I mean, the subtle differences.)

AsiaOne re-used my articles 12 times in 2009, but only twice last year. Not a good sign.

Not that I strive to get on AsiaOne because honestly, I don't know how. It's still a mystery to me. The chosen articles cover a wide range of topics. I can't find a common thread.

Maybe you can figure it out. (List is continually updated.)
February 22 2016, Asian Opinions
Someone may suspect you're a terrorist
Uncut version

February 14 2016, Asian Opinions
'Thanks for lying to us, Rebecca'
Uncut version

February 7 2016, Singapore
Poverty simulation: 'Good to experience what it's like to be poor'
Uncut version

February 1 2016, Singapore
Humour: Getting your duckweed in a row'
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January 25 2016, Showbiz
Humour: Rock star dies, 'uncle' retires
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January 11 2016, Digital
Humour: Netflix and too much chill?
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January 4 2016, Asian Opinions
1 Sengkang Mall versus Eunoia JC
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December 28 2015, Asian Opinions
In defence of Compass Point's new name
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December 21 2015, Singapore
Humour: Is Orchard Road the new Jem
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December 7 2015, Showbiz
Why you can't see Eric Khoo's new movie
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November 30 2015, Showbiz Singapore
Humour: Wrath of the Glamberts
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November 23 2015, Singapore
Why today's column is not about my Paris trip
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October 27 2015, Singapore, Women, Lollipop
Humour: From 'scary old lady' to 'chiobu'?
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October 20 2015, Singapore, Asian Opinions
Humour: MRT breakdowns no enough, so they faked one
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October 13 2015, Singapore, Asian Opinions
Humour: To wipe or not to wipe
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September 29 2015, Singapore
Haze & confused
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September 22 2015, Singapore
'I don't want to hear any more complaints'
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September 15 2015, General Election 2015
If an ex-game show host can become an MP...
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September 8 2015, General Election 2015
If an Uber driver could almost become a candidate
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September 1 2015, General Election 2015
Humour: How my MP can win my vote
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August 25 2015, Showbiz
Humour: I watched Hitman: Agent 47 because it's SG50
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August 18 2015, Asian Opinions
Humour: The first time I heard the name 'Lui Tuck Yew'
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August 4 2015, Asian Opinions
What should I watch?
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July 14 2015, Transport
Worst MRT breakdown? How to tell?
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June 23 2015, Singapore
Humour: How I went AWOL and almost got 18 months' detention
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June 2 2015, Showbiz
S'pore history Filipino-style
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May 26 2015, Asian Opinions
Stunned like vegetable by Mr Tharman
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May 19 2015, Showbiz
Let's think about the 'govsingapore' videos
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April 28 2015, Asian Opinions
Fifty shades of black and white
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April 14 2015, Singapore
Humour: Meet the 'chiobu' of the cyberpioneer generation
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March 23 2015, Singapore
Xiaxue not so 'sia suay' after all?
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March 9 2015, Asian Opinions
Humour: The armpit & the pabulum
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March 3 2015, Singapore
Did I write for The Real S'pore? No (& yes)
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February 24 2015, Showbiz
Glenn Ong v Nic Lee...& VR Man?
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February 17 2015, Singapore
Humour: Skip Chinese New Year? I tried
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February 10 2015, Singapore
Humour: Running by the Bay with Baey
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February 3 2015, Women People
What happened to Joanne Peh?
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January 27 2015, Asian Opinions
Alcohol curbs? Be a teetotaller
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January 20 2015, Showbiz
Why I'm afraid to bump into Glenn Ong
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January 6 2015, Singapore
Humour: Have online pranksters grown up in 2015?
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December 30 2014, Singapore
Humour: Gushcloud versus Goliath - I mean, Xiaxue
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December 23 2014, Showbiz
How I survived The Hobbit marathon
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December 9 2014, Singapore, Lollipop
Humour: How to tell A*Star scholar and R21 actress apart?
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November 25 2014, Singapore
When it's urgent to have the runs
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November 11 2014, Singapore
Sim Lim Square saga: Revenge by pizza
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October 28 2014, Asian Opinions
How not to make small talk with the Queen
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October 14 2014, Women Parenting
What relationship workshop? He was doodling
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October 7 2014, Singapore
Humour: Do we need a Manual of Obedience?
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September 23 2014, Singapore
The iPhone is not a cat
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September 17 2014, Women Relationships
Bye, Boanne. Hello, Joyu
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September 9 2014, Singapore
'Kill pretentious art groups' flier is satire
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September 2 2014, Singapore
Humour: The cat is not a lie
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August 26 2014, Singapore
Humour: Otak-otak man is my wife's fishball stick
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August 19 2014, Singapore
At least she didn't litter
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August 12 2014, Singapore
Humour: What's missing in this year's National Day festivities
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August 5 2014, Asian Opinions
Let’s talk about issues that S’poreans really care about
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July 29 2014, Singapore
Make IPPT like CPF, sir!
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July 22 2014, Singapore
Humour: NLB hurt my feelings
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July 15 2014, Sports
Humour: Mixed signals over World Cup finals
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July 1 2014, Asian Opinions
Humour: Not tickled pink about red card by men in blue
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June 24 2014, Singapore
Humour: The fault in our Jem
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June 3 2014, Showbiz
Humour: From drag queen to Grammar Queen
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May 20 2014, Singapore
Humour: No new NDP song to pick on this year
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May 6 2014, Showbiz
Star Awards without Ann Kok = protest without poo
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April 29 2014, Singapore
Humour: Dear Aware, NSmen are not your enemy
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April 22 2014, Showbiz
I want to be a Baey Yam Keng lookalike too
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April 8 2014, Asian Opinions
'I don't want to kill SIngaporeans - it's only satire'
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April 1 2014, Showbiz
Humour: Jack, you don't want to mess with this frogman
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March 18 2014, Singapore
Humour: Naked man on a train? Call Samuel L. Jackson
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March 11 2014, Asian Opinions
Most expensive city? Don’t be shy, own it!
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March 4 2014, Asian Opinions
Slow trains but 'not service disruption'. Really, SMRT?
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February 25 2014, Edvantage
No air-con in schools but give them Mentos
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February 18 2014, Singapore
Why PM Lee can't 'unfriend' anyone on Facebook
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January 6 2014, Showbiz, My Paper Opinion
Why was Ivan Heng watching TV on New Year's Eve?
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December 31 2013, Asian Opinions
So how unlucky was 2013 for you?
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December 24 2013, Singapore
What makes a hero? A viral video & checked shirt
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November 27 2013, Sports
Making a mountain out of a marathon
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November 26 2013, Showbiz
A Singaporean for Sexiest Man Alive?
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November 19 2013, Singapore
Be a patriot, celebrate World Toilet Day
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November 12 2013, Singapore
Hacked? I'd be more afraid of blowtorch
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October 22 2013, Asian Opinions
5 things I wish I knew before doing NS
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October 15 2013, Singapore
Who could have started the SingTel fire?
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October 8 2013, Singapore
No cable TV? How about a Samurai burger? Fine
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October 1 2013, Edvantage
Tuition dilemma: How to pronounce it?
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September 10 2013, Showbiz
Watch what you eat, Ris Low
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September 3 2013, Singapore
I won't wear pink rubber band for IC photo
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August 27 2013, Showbiz
Is Ken Lim addicted to judging
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August 20 2013, Singapore
Who are you calling narcissistic?
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August 13 2013, Singapore, The Straits Times Communities Entertainment
NDP or holiday: What's your choice?
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August 6 2013, Singapore, Diva
Singapore's own Bieber & Gomez
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July 30 2013, Digital1
Social media: Every day is April Fools' Day
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July 23 2013, Singapore, The Straits Times Communities Entertainment
In defence of the new NDP song
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July 16 2013, SoShiok
Here’s the rendang burger death match
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July 9 2013, SoShiok
Famous? But I've never heard of it
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July 2 2013, Singapore
Black Hello Kitty, Gordon Ramsay & the end of the world
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June 25 2013, Asian Opinions
Do ballerinas wear gas masks?
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June 4 2013, The Straits Times Communities Entertainment
Aaron Aziz has so many followers on Instagram, he may require an MDA license
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May 28 2013, Singapore
3 more things about S'pore that will shock Vin Diesel
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May 14 2013, Diva
Mother's Day – from a father's perspective
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April 24 2013, SoShiok
Taking it to the max
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April 16 2013, The Straits Times Communities Entertainment
So is Joanne Peh really going out with Qi Yuwu?
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April 2 2013, Singapore
When gay doesn't mean happy and being mischievous means...
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March 26 2013, Diva
What is a parent to do with all that sex?
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March 19 2013, Showbiz, Diva, The Straits Times Communities Entertainment
Why did't we know about Joanne Peh's break-up sooner?
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March 5 2013, SoShiok
I have no beef with Ikea meatballs & wieners, but...
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February 19 2013, Showbiz
Die-hard censors spoil it
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January 6 2013, Mailbox
After all the complaints, I apologise for being stupid
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December 25 2012, Singapore
I'm not positive these surveys are reliable
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November 20 2012, Showbiz
Meet the queen of Singapore on Suburgatory
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November 10 2012, Mailbox
The only kampung spirit I know is the pontianak
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October 30 2012, Showbiz
Popcorn and cupcakes Daniel Ong-style
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October 9 2012, Showbiz
Ah Kua Show star called 'ah kua' by bus driver
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September 19 2012, Mailbox
Why would anyone pay $1 million to live in Queenstown?
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September 5 2012, Showbiz
Who is 'B' in Vernetta Lopez's new book?
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August 30 2012, Singapore
Richest and healthiest, so why not the biggest M&Ms store?
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August 21 2012, Singapore
Beyond the Kate Spade bag
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August 7 2012, Sports
My mother says Tao Li is too fat to win
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July 30 2012, SoShiok
McDonald's curry sauce, from free to the new gold
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July 24 2012, Showbiz
Le Bisellahause 4 times as good as Modern Family
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July 4 2012, Showbiz
How to find Sun Ho's songs in iTunes Store
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June 26 2012, Singapore
Ah Lian versus Predator...
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June 19 2012, Showbiz
What is art?
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June 12 2012, Mailbox
My grandfather not a stickler for grammar
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May 1 2012, Science And Tech
Online vice? Insenstive tweets? Ban the Net!
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Apr 23 2012, Soshiok
Live to eat? This burger is to die for
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Apr 17 2012, Mailbox
I didn't feel the earth move under my feet
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April 10 2012, Showbiz
Why VR Man will outlive us all
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November 15 2011, Diva
Will you be my wife – for more than 72 days?
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November 1 2011, Mailbox
Why Deepavali is better than Halloween
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February 27 2011, Edvantage
Forget Borders, I'll open my own chain of bookstores
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September 13 2010, Edvantage
S'poreans should stop teaching English to ourselves
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September 7 2010, Asian Opinions
Too old to get NS Recognition Award, too young to die
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August 10 2010, News
Why we don't need new National Day song every year
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February 17 2010, Diva
More local men should marry Caucasians
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December 28 2009, Diva
Ris Low is S’porean Of The Year
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December 13 2009, Education
Revenge of the potato eater: Speak English to work here
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November 2 2009, SoShiok
Days of wet market are numbered
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October 27 2009, Digital
iPhone-crazy? Not so kiddy apps in Apple's online store
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October 20 2009, Education
Parents up in arms over PSLE maths paper, but...
Uncut version

September 22 2009, Relax
If M'sia is 'Truly Asia', then anything is possible
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August 4 2009, Digital
They can't open my phone
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June 30, 2009. News
MJ not dead, he's hanging with Elvis
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April 25 2009, SoShiok
I will never eat at this foodcourt
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April 22 2009, News
Firing a maid: From trust to paranoia
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March 26 2009, News
How to be the next Edison Chen
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March 8 2009, Diva, The New Paper
Glenn Ong is our Brad Pitt
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November 4 2008, Travel
Full disclosure in travel ads came too late for me
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November 3 2008, Asian Opinions
Pasar malams dying? Oh, I really hope so
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October 24 2008, Asian Opinions
Live to a ripe old age? No thanks
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March 30 2008, Digital
'Mas Selamat', my Facebook friend
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April is the cruelest month for obsolescent tech

RIP Rediffusion 1949 - 2012

RIP The pager 1990s - 2012

Earlier this week, it was Rediffusion.

Today, it's reported that SunPage, the last paging service provider in Singapore, is also shutting down its paging service at the end of the month.

Just as with Rediffusion, I'm sure it comes as a surprise to many that the pager is still around.

And as with Rediffusion, I expect there will be nostalgic tributes to the pager, a particularly '90s artifact while Rediffusion spanned generations.

But unlike Rediffusion, I think hardly anyone is sad to see the pager join the typewriter, the cassette tape, the VCR, the floppy disk, the laser disc and the PDA in the technological graveyard.

My not-so-fond memories of Rediffusion is me being glued to the box for four hours in my aunt's one-room flat at North Bridge Road every weekend in the early '80s just to jot down the title of every single one of the American top 40 hits with the chart positions as counted down by Casey Kasem.

I was rather obsessed back then. Now I just go to

I remember Queen's Another One Bites The Dust being No. 1 like forever (actually, only three weeks).

Then in 1993, one of my first assignments as a journalist was a magazine feature on Rediffusion. Even then, my reaction was "Rediffusion is still around?"

But that was when I met DJ John Klass, who would soon have hits with his band Kick!, and programme director Juanita Melson, the original voice of MRT.

Both are now my Facebook friends. Yay!

I also met my hero Chris Ho at Rediffusion, where he hosted a show and had me on as a guest once. Unfortunately, he has chosen not to add me as a "friend".

As for the pager, well ... I used to have one, but found it was pretty useless. Maybe it was because I didn't have many friends. (Damn you, Chris Ho!)

I just noticed Phua Chu Kang is visibly wearing both a handphone and a pager on his pants in the first episode of PCK Pte Ltd in 1997.

By the final season 10 years later, he's wearing nothing. I mean you don't see the handphone and pager anymore. Presumably, he ditched the pager and the handphone is slim enough to keep in his pocket.

And so 30 April 2012 will mark the end of two eras.

Rediffusion should've just change its name to Instagram.

UPDATE: Rediffusion on 'air' again

Sunday 8 April 2012

Why VR Man will outlive us all

He is one of Singapore’s most respected writers.

Some of award-winning playwright Tan Tarn How’s work was recently compiled in the book Six Plays, published last year. His latest play, Fear Of Writing, was staged last September.

The former Fulbright scholar is now a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

Oh, by the way, he was also head writer of VR Man.

I point this out not to embarrass the guy, whom I count as a friend since we were colleagues at MediaCorp, where he also worked on the more fondly remembered Growing Up.

But to honour him.

Not that Tarn How tries to keep his VR Man past a secret.

Nestled discreetly among his writing credits on his WordPress blog, VR Man is listed between 1998’s The First Emperor’s Last Days staged by TheatreWorks for the Singapore Arts Festival and the 1996 feature screenplay Miss Lily.

Chances are you’ve never heard of The First Emperor’s Last Days or Miss Lily, but you wish you never heard of VR Man.

Proof of the TV show’s entrenchment in our national psyche can be found in the article in The Straits Times a week ago about Channel 5 losing viewers due to the lack of “good” content.

Criticising the local drama Point Of Entry (the second season ended two weeks ago), someone was quoted as saying, “It’s so bad that it’s funny, like VR Man.”

Just like no discussion about Singlish can overlook Phua Chu Kang, it seems that no article about the badness of local shows on Channel 5 can be complete without name-checking VR Man.

I mean the show is 14 years old!

Let me put it another way: 14 years from now, in the year 2026, when there’s another article about another really bad local show on Channel 5 (if it's still around), no one is going to compare it to Point Of Entry – or even remember Point Of Entry.

Despite there having been plenty of bad shows on Channel 5 since 1998 (I even wrote some of them), the immortal VR Man remains the benchmark.

You (and future generations) only have to view the brief YouTube clip of VR Man escaping two pirouetting policemen to understand why.

Before James Lye in his superhero mask came along, 1994's Masters Of The Sea – Singapore’s first English drama series – was the previous gold standard for Channel 5 disasters.

Yes, VR Man is even worse than Margaret Chan’s hamminess.

What’s more, VR Man, which lasted a season, is even worse than Now Boarding.

The 2001 comedy was so bad that I believe it was the only local series ever to be cancelled mid-season. It lasted five episodes.

In recent years, Channel 5 just moved really low-rated shows like After Hours, Live 'N' Loaded and The Pupil to later time slots rather than killing them mid-season.

(Now Boarding is also notable for starring both Mark Richmond’s first and second wives as flight attendants - Vernetta Lopez and Beatrice Chia, who would later become Beatrice Chia-Richmond. Speaking of which, Mark Richmond also starred in VR Man as the awesomely named Click-Click Man.)

Even Silver Lining lasted one whole 13-episode season – and I bet you weren’t even aware there was a show called Silver Lining on Channel 5.

It aired in 2010 and starred veteran Hongkong comedian Richard Ng, father of Carl Ng, star of Point Of Entry (an unfortunate case of the son following in the dad’s Channel 5 footsteps).

I'm not sure which is worse – a show that people ridicule or a show that people don't even know exists.

As another former MediaCorp colleague who also wrote for VR Man puts it: “Well, if you’re going to be bad, you might as well be memorably bad.”

But how do you be “memorably bad”?

It's not as if anyone deliberately sets out to produce a bad show, much less a “memorably bad” one.

I think what made VR Man memorable was its ambition and the great distance by which its reach exceeded its grasp.

I mean a superhero show on a local TV budget from a production team whose previous experience was Growing Up, a low-key drama set in the low-tech ’60s? Come on!

If only they had promoted VR Man as an outright kids' show like Okto's recent Zero Hero (incidentally, an early working title for VR Man was Zero To Hero), then the reception wouldn't have been so merciless.

And I wouldn't be writing this column about the iconic badness of VR Man.

And Tarn How could still be working at MediaCorp today, perhaps writing The Noose.

The greatest irony may be that Channel 5's viewership has dropped so much that VR Man at the time had more viewers than any show on Channel 5 now, including The Noose which had made fun of VR Man.

It's so sad that it's funny.

- Published in The New Paper, 8 April 2012

Friday 6 April 2012

Setting fire in the rain (because it's easier than setting fire 'to' the rain)

Here I am with my sister burning paper offerings for our dead father and grandmother at the Choa Chu Kang Columbarium on a rainy Wednesday morning.

Has the Qingming Festival, when many Chinese Singaporeans visit their dead ancestors, always been on the same week as Good Friday, a day commemorating the death of Christ?

It's the week of the dead.

How ironic would it be if while I'm paying respects to the dead, I get myself killed by slipping on the wet ground and cracking my skull? Or by smoke inhalation?

I dread Qingming as my mother forces me to go almost every year.

That's right, I'm a man in my mid-40s and my mommy is still making me do things I don't wanna.

At least, this year it's the first time we're not doing it at the cemetery. We had just moved my father's and his mother's remains to the columbarium last year.

My mother's leg still hurts and she's using a walking cane with a seat.

It's a miracle the flimsy thing can support her weight.

Speaking of death, through the connectivity of Facebook, I'm shocked to learn that someone else I know has died.

I mean I'm not young, but I'm not that old. So it's not like these acquaintances died of old age.

I've previously written about the people I knew at the US college paper where I worked 20 years ago called The Daily Cardinal. Like Todd Hanson, who has been writing for The Onion for two decades.

Others have gone on to work on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Modern Family. A few have won Emmies and Pulitzers.

These are people I haven't seen or spoken to for 20 years and I doubt they even remember me.

A lot can happen in 20 years.

Two people at the paper I still remember fondly are Syrentha Savio and Mark Beemer.

She was a tall, cute brunette with long wavy hair who worked in the ad department where I used to create ads for advertisers on a Mac.

He was a photographer who introduced me to straight edge hardcore.

This week, I found out on Facebook that they married, which surprised me because I never knew they were together.

I also found out she had died from breast cancer, which was a shock. She couldn't have been much more than 30 years old at the time.

But that was when I began to learn about Mark's remarkable story - what he did after her death was to start a fund in Syrentha's name to fight the disease that took her.

In his own words:
"I started the Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE) in February of 2002, in memory of my wife who had lost her battle with breast cancer in January."

"I wanted to somehow capture Syrentha’s compassionate spirit and caring nature.

"In life, Syrentha was always giving, and rarely taking – and I wanted that to persevere, even in her death."

Having known Syrentha, I can vouch that she was everything Mark said she was.

"After some soul-searching, I sat down with the people at the Lombardi Cancer Center, where Syrentha was treated, and talked to them about how best to honour her life and continue to give.

"And thus, the Syrentha Savio Endowment was born."

But what's even more remarkable is how he's raising money for the breast cancer fund - though hardcore punk.

You see, Mark is not just photographer - he's a punk photographer. Yes, apparently, that's a thing.

Mark specialises in taking pictures of US hardcore bands you've never heard of, like Fugazi, Kid Dynamite, The Donnas and the Get Up Kids. (OK, I've heard of Fugazi and The Donnas.)

So over the years, there have been hardcore concerts, albums and other stuff to benefit the breast cancer fund named after his late wife.

But his big thing now seems to be The Shirts For A Cure Project.

How it works is a band (like say, My Chemical Romance or Avenged Sevenfold) donates a shirt design to the project and all the proceeds from the sale of the shirts go to the Syrentha Savio Endowment.

And this is how punk rock is helping to fight breast cancer, thanks to a photographer who was just trying to keep the spirit of his dead wife alive.

It's certainly better than burning stuff.

Oh, and it wouldn't kill you to order a T-shirt.