Sunday 2 December 2012

Call a spade a spade, but don't call me Samantha

It’s like “ponding” all over again.

Remember how after flash floods hit Orchard Road in December last year, PUB said “there was no flooding at Orchard Road”?

But “water ponded at the open area of Liat Towers, the underpass between Lucky Plaza and Ngee Ann City, and the basement of Lucky Plaza due to the sustained heavy downpour”.

“Ponding” became the joke word of the day.

Why did Noah build an ark? To prepare for The Great Ponding.

A couple of weeks later, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament: “As far as I’m concerned, I call a spade a spade. A flood is a flood.”

I totally agree.

I think it’s about time we call a spade a spade in the dispute between SMRT and some of its employees who did not show up for work last week.

Actually, just about everybody is calling the spade a spade except for one contrarian organisation – SMRT.

This is from a press release issued by SMRT on Wednesday:
“On 26 November 2012, 171 Service Leaders from China did not report for duty.

“At dialogue with the Service Leaders yesterday, SMRT assured the Service Leaders it will look into their concerns, while the Service Leaders agreed to return to work the next day.”
Huh? What the hell are “Service Leaders”?

As if the term wasn’t obscure enough already, SMRT then abbreviated it in the next sentence.
“However, despite the agreement, 68 and 20 of the SLs who were on the morning and afternoon shift did not show up for work today (27 Nov).”
Who are these “SLs” and why should we care about them?

We should care about them because these SLs drive buses and if they don’t return to work, we might have to wait even longer than usual for the bus.

There is another name for them – they’re called “bus drivers”.

Or BDs for short. (Not to be confused with Triumph Bee Dees.)

To paraphrase Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which SMRT calls a Service Leader by any other name would still strike.”

I understand the desire to give the BDs a title that’s more aspirational, but “Service Leader” is just too generic and sounds like it could mean anything from someone who leads a church service to a head waiter.

SMRT is apparently aware of the problem because in an online job ad for Service Leaders, the company felt the need to add the words “bus drivers” in parentheses.

This is why you should call a spade a spade. Otherwise, you have to put “spade” in brackets, so people know what you’re talking about.

If the term “bus drivers” is too low class for SMRT, the company can follow what SBS Transit does and call its BDs “bus captains”, which actually sounds kind of cool and at least has the word “bus” in it.

The other option is “pilots on wheels”, but that may be a bit of a mouthful. Well, you can always shorten it to POW... oh, I see the problem. (POW is already short for prisoners of war.)

Unfortunately, it seems the BDs themselves have little control over what they're called.

I know the feeling.

Last week, I received an e-mail complaining about my column lamenting the end of the Twilight movies.

I suggested that the film-makers could continue the movie series without following the books.

I wrote: “The next Twilight movie could be about Jacob and Renesmee having a werewolf-vampire-human triple-hybrid baby who accidentally gets swapped with a very realistic-looking doll at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.”

That was the only mention of the hospital in the 773-word column, but it was enough for the e-mail writer to complain:
“So you thought that a movie about a baby-swap at a named maternity hospital was funny?

“It is okay to ridicule a hospital where a genuine human error has occurred?

"You know that in the current climate, the institution is not going to respond to your stupid comment. And so, you took a cheap shot.”
Ouch. I think I need a doctor.

The writer continued:
“So, you chose to ridicule the hospital and in the process, the good people working behind the scenes to do good for future generations.”
That wasn’t my intention, but I see the writer’s point. So I apologise to the good people of KKH for my stupid comment.

But what I don’t understand is why the e-mail began with “Dear Samantha”.

Who’s Samantha? Am I Samantha?

I know my hair is long like a beautiful woman’s, but do I look like a Samantha?

Did the writer think that S M Ong stood for Samantha Ong? (Then he should address me as Ms Ong.)

Even if I look like a beautiful woman in my byline photo, I had stated quite specifically in the column that “I’m a middle-aged man who likes Twilight”!

And the SLs from China think they got problems.

It’s almost enough to make me want to cut my hair and jump into a giant pond.

- Published in The New Paper, 2 December 2012