Sunday 30 June 2013

How I failed to get the black Hello Kitty (and hello, Gordon Ramsay)

It’s the end of the world.

And it’s not because of the apocalyptic haze that shrouded Singapore two weeks ago.

It’s also not because after the apocalyptic haze, apocalyptic hail pelted my sister’s Korean language classroom in Jurong on Tuesday.

It’s also not because Gordon Ramsay is coming to Singapore.

Last week, the Hell’s Kitchen star accepted SingTel’s challenge to a hawker food cook-off in a YouTube video.

I’m surprised the British chef even knows what the term “hawker food” means. I wonder how much SingTel is paying him to pretend he does.

I’m less surprised that The New Paper reported that some of the local hawkers shortlisted for the cook-off didn’t know who Ramsay was.


You’re welcome.

As Ramsay tweeted about coming to Singapore: “It’s going to be intense!”

And he wasn’t talking about the apocalyptic haze or the apocalyptic hail.

Anyway, it might as well be the apocalypse for me since I have failed in my quest to get the Singing Bone Hello Kitty from McDonald’s.

I no longer have a reason to live (except for the prospect of watching Ramsay yell obscenities at our local hawkers).

I’m not even a Hello Kitty fan.

But the moment I first laid eyes on the picture of the black Singing Bone Hello Kitty toy last month when McDonald's launched its fairy tales-themed Hello Kitty promotion, I was spellbound.

I had never seen a black Hello Kitty before.

It's so irresistibly cute yet macabre at the same time – and it’s not even Halloween.

The Singing Bone actually refers to relatively obscure and gruesome Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a guy who murders his brother and buries the body under a bridge.

According to, many years later, a shepard finds a bone of the dead brother and uses the bone to make a mouthpiece for his horn.

When the shepherd puts the mouthpiece to his lips to play, the bone starts singing about how the brother was murdered.

It’s Hello Kitty gone goth!

The black costume also reminds me of My Chemical Romance’s music video for their epic 2006 hit, Welcome To The Black Parade, which I love.

To quote the chorus: “And though you’re dead and gone, believe me your memory will carry on.”

It’s emo Hello Kitty!

I don’t care about the other Hello Kitties that McDonald’s was offering. I just want the black one.

When my wife bought the Little Red Riding Hello Kitty at McDonald’s more than three weeks ago, there was no queue.

Then people started queueing for the Ugly Duckling Hello Kitty on the night when the PSI hit 321. That was when it began to get a little crazy.

My plan was to join the queue for the black Hello Kitty after work on the night it was released at the 24-hour McDonald’s outlet in Yew Tee, which is closest to my home.

But then I had noticed on my way to Yew Tee that there was no queue at the nearby Teck Whye McDonald’s.

So I decided to take a taxi from Yew Tee to the Teck Whye McDonald’s, which cost me $6 including the midnight surcharge.

It was only after I got there that I saw the “sold out” sign. So that was why there was no queue!

I felt so stupid and embarrassed by my stupidity that I pretended I wanted to buy some food at McDonald’s and then pretended to change my mind.

So I took another taxi back to Yew Tee for another $6 and joined the queue at 1.53am. Two poor souls actually joined the queue after me.

At 2am, a guy in a McDonald’s uniform came out holding a “sold out” sign. He announced that unless we have a coupon, there would be no Hello Kitty for people standing behind the sign.

I was standing way behind the sign.

That was when my world ended.

I was also out 12 bucks because of the taxi fare. I was so emo I wanted to murder someone and hide his body under a bridge.

If only I hadn’t wasted precious minutes going to Teck Whye, I could be snuggling with my black Hello Kitty at this very moment.

What do I have to live for now?

I’m not interested in buying second-hand Hello Kitties from resellers because it’s just not the same.

Hey, there are some old episodes of Hell’s Kitchen on YouTube. Ha ha, Gordon Ramsay just called someone “dickface”.

There may be life after Hello Kitty after all.

As My Chemical Romance sang: “We’ll carry on. We’ll carry on.”

- Published in The New Paper, 30 June 2013

UPDATE: To make me feel better, my wife bought me the balloon version of the Singing Bone Hello Kitty yesterday from VivoCity. It worked. Too bad the air eventually ran out. All joy is temporary.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Cops & queues for the last Hello Kitty at McDonald's

This morning just before 2am at Yew Tee McDonald's:

Just after 7am at Limbang McDonald's:

Around 7:30am at Lot One McDonald's:

All for this:

All sold out by the time I got there.

PSI in the moderate range, so it wasn't so bad.

And no hail.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

The Government's out-of-sync response to The Great Haze of 2013

As I mentioned in Sunday's column, I saw the movie World War Z last week.

It's about how governments fail to take a problem seriously despite early warning signs until the problem is literally on top of them.

That scenario seemed oddly familiar, but I wasn't sure why. It's not like Singapore has been overrun by zombies before.

Anyway, on the Thursday I saw the movie, this was the front page of The Straits Times.

The haze has been building up since June 14.

It was front page news on June 15 - the PSI had gone all the way up to 88! - but not the next day.

The haze was back on the front page on June 17 and hasn't left since.

But it was only on June 20 (the day I saw World War Z) that the Prime Minister finally decided to take serious action.

Up until then, the Government's reaction has been pretty much boilerplate: NEA health advisories, calling on Jakarta, etc.

This is understandable since the haze has been a yearly event like the Great Singapore Sale since 1997 and no one expected the PSI to go over 400.

But after the PSI hit the then unprecedented 321 on the night when people were queuing for The Ugly Duckling Hello Kitty at McDonalds's, PM Lee Hsien Loong hastily announced the formation of the Haze Inter-Ministry Committee.

And it took another day for the Government to address the scarcity of masks.

On June 22, ministers had pictures taken of themselves distributing masks to the needy.

The irony, of course, is that June 22 is also the day the PSI fell to below 100 for the first time in a week.

And it has been mostly blue skies since.

So it seems that the Government has missed the boat once again.

But the thing about our Government is that like a dog with a bone, once it's committed to something, it won't let go. It's not going to let a little thing like blue skies get in the way.

Yesterday, it was announced that ministries are to share their action plans to minimise disruptions due to the haze by this week.

A case of closing the barn door after the horses have left the barn and returned?

As PM Lee posted on his Facebook page: "Hope the clear air lasts, but let’s be prepared for the haze to come back."

Words to live by for sure, but a little ironic coming from a Government that seemed to have been genuinely caught off-guard by The Great Haze of 2013, judging by the belated scrambling.

But it's also in line with how the Government has responded in other similar situations in the past, either economic or health-related:

When things are turning bad, the Government tells us not to overreact. When things get better, the Government tells us not to be complacent.

It appears the Government sees itself as a moderating force, which I guess is not a bad thing.

After the haze last week, it's now hailing in Singapore.

Could zombies be next? I'm beginning to think it's really the end of the world. I certainly need some moderating.

Does NTUC sell helmets?

I bet Brad Pitt would know what to do.

Sunday 23 June 2013

I'm not talking about the haze

Everyone is talking about the haze.

So I won’t.

For one thing, talking about the haze can get you into trouble.

Like what happened to radio DJ and ballet aficionado Rosalyn Lee.

Commenting on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) reducing physical and outdoor training with the PSI exceeding 100, Lee posted on Facebook: “REALLY!? Shouldn’t the SAF, of all people, train in all weather conditions and be at least haze-ready?”

I do recall training for chemical warfare in a gas mask during my national service. Does that make me “haze-ready”?

Can the haze be considered a chemical weapon? I know a few Singaporeans who want to declare war on Indonesia as retaliation.

But wait. Lee wasn’t done dissing SAF.

Replying to another Facebook comment, she wrote: “They way i see it, I reckon I trained harder in 4-hour ballet classes than some of these NSFs do! lol!”

Ouch. Comparing full-time national servicemen to girls practising pirouettes in tutus – that must sting more than the haze in my eyes.

Lee was understandably flamed for her Ah Boys To Ballerinas comparison. As one detractor pithily observed: “Girls talking about NS is like guys talking about giving birth.”

In her defence, I would like to point out that Lee did include an “lol” in her comment.

Also, I have never taken a four-hour ballet class, so I really can’t say for sure if it’s harder than NS, but I have seen the movie Black Swan and I can safely say that I don’t know anyone in NS who thinks he is turning into a big black bird.

In the end, Lee apologised for her comment. No, wait, she didn’t.

She wrote: “I am overwhelmed yet heartened all at once at the immense support towards the SAF and national service.

“Regardless of how we each express our views, I believe the common goal that binds us is the obvious fact that we all care about our country and that we will stop at nothing to keep it safe - and that is something I choose to take away from these humbling exchanges.”

Perhaps not humbling enough.

Well, at least, McDonald’s apologised.

The fast food chain ran an ad promoting its new wasabi and honey mustard dip sauce for its McNuggets with the headline: “Today’s Peak Sauce Index is looking deliciously high.”

PSI stands for Peak Sauce Index, get it? That joke is even more forced than many of my columns.

Some people were upset by McDonald’s attempt at humour as they felt it trivialised the haze problem.

One of them told The Straits Times: “If the advertisement had been used when the PSI first came up, the joke might seem funny. But when the PSI hits 300, it is not a joke any more.”

Is this person talking about the three-hour PSI or the 24-hour PSI?

Let me get this straight.

So it’s okay to make fun of the haze as long as the PSI is 299 or below.

But once it hits the number that’s also the title of the movie directed by the same guy who directed Man Of Steel, jokes are no-go?

Someone should tell Mr Brown.

And everyone else on the Internet.

If McDonald’s should apologise for anything, it’s for making people queue overnight outside in the haze for The Ugly Duckling Hello Kitty toy.

But then again, this isn’t really the fault of McDonald’s. It’s the Singaporeans who are so willing to risk their health on the night when the PSI hit 321 for a toy.

No wonder Indonesian Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono likened us to children.

But Hello Kitty is so cuuuuute!

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the haze.

I want to talk about the movie World War Z, which I saw a few days ago.

Not sure whether it’s pronounced World War Zee (since it’s an American movie) or World War Zed (since we’re in Singapore).

I read somewhere that Z is the Roman numeral for 100,000, so the correct pronunciation should be World War One Hundred Thousand. Most people don’t know this because it’s not true.

Regardless of how you choose to pronounce the title, the Brad Pitt-produced zombie movie turned out to be one of the better summer flicks this year, surprisingly more engaging than Man Of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness.

World War Z is about how governments fail to take a problem seriously despite early warning signs until the problem is literally on top of them.

Like I said, I’m not talking about the haze.

I just hope the PSI falls back to double digits on Wednesday night because McDonald’s is releasing the Singing Bones Hello Kitty on Thursday and I don’t have any N95 masks.

And in case the PSI hits 300 when you read this, I apologise.

Time to sign up for some ballet classes. I already have the tutu.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 June 2013

Thursday 20 June 2013

Relive the good old days of double-digit PSI with PCK on TV

PSI: 39 (31 Oct 2006)

PSI: 48 (7 Nov 2006)

No PSI number (14 Nov 2006)

No PSI number (21 Nov 2006)

These are the first four episodes of the final season, which I wrote and produced.

More PCK episodes

Brad Pitt fights war against haze

3 ways the haze has affected me personally

1. Nothing to eat.

2. I now look like this.

Actually, I look like this.

3. Thanks to the haze, my family no longer complains about how I smell.

Singapore's worst haze in history

The 3-hour PSI reading stood at 371 as of 1pm today. This is up from the PSI reading of 299 at noon.

The number soared to a then record high of 321 at 10 pm last night, up from 290 just an hour earlier and below 200 earlier in the day.

A PSI reading of 101 to 200 means air quality is in the "unhealthy" range and 201 to 300 means "very unhealthy". Anything above that means "hazardous".

Monday 17 June 2013

Solving the haze problem

Somewhere in Choa Chu Kang...

AsiaOne: Haze hits unhealthy level in Singapore

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 155 at 10pm, nearly 100 points higher than the PSI level of 56 at 7am today and well above the "unhealthy" threshold of 101 and above. This is the highest since 1997, when the index reached 226.

Since this morning, conditions have been visibly hazy and a strong burning smell has been detected across many parts of Singapore.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading as of 4pm today was in the range of 68 to 83, which is in the "moderate" range. The three-hour PSI reading soared to 117 at 7pm. It has since shot up to 140 at 8pm and 152 at 9pm.

Earlier, the National Environment Agency (NEA) had alerted the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on the haze situation in Singapore, urging Indonesia to look into urgent measures to mitigate the trans-boundary haze occurrence.

But the Indonesian forestry ministry said firefighters were already tackling the blazes and water-dropping aircraft would only be deployed if local governors made a request, which they had yet to do.

Ministry official Hadi Daryanto attempted to shift some of the blame onto Malaysia and Singapore, saying their palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia were also responsible.

"We hope the governments of Malaysia and Singapore will tell their investors to adopt proper measures so we can solve this problem together," he said.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Jem’s jam more shocking than Wong Li-lin’s divorce

Dear Jem,

Congratulations on your opening yesterday.

Four days late.

Wink, wink.

Just between you and me, the delay was intentional, right?

News of the aborted opening last week was more shocking than Wong Li Lin and Allan Wu getting a divorce.

Now Wong can finally be reunited with her former Triple Nine co-star James Lye, whom everyone knows she is destined to be with.

Sorry, Diana Ser. Maybe Bobby Tonelli is still available.

Celebrities get divorced all the time, but what Jem did was unprecedented.

Anyone can open a shopping mall. But to cancel the opening of the third largest suburban mall in Singapore on the night before it was supposed to open?

That took some kind of evil marketing genius and mall-size balls. I clap for you.

When I first heard that Jem was opening next to the Jurong East MRT station, I was so happy that I didn’t mind living near a dengue cluster in Choa Chu Kang.

It was like Orchard Road coming to our smelly backwater kampung.

It's even more exciting than offering free shipping to Singapore for certain orders above US$125 (S$156).

Having lived in the western part of Singapore for 30 years, I have long felt that the area has been underserved in terms of shopping centres.

Sure, we already have IMM, Jurong Point, JCube and West Mall, but you can never have enough places to watch post-converted 3-D Hollywood movies, buy crap you don’t need and eat lousy food court food.

Actually, IMM doesn’t have a cinema, Jurong Point has been extended twice since it opened in 1995, JCube is basically an ice-skating rink that happens to have some shops around it and West Mall appeals only to people in Bukit Batok.

Jem may be another generic shopping mall, but at least it’s a classy generic shopping mall with stores like H&M, Kinokuniya and Victoria’s Secret.

Even your name sounds classy. Jem is a homophone (not a gay telephone) for “gem”.

Unfortunately, Jem also sounds like “jam”, which better describes your situation last Tuesday when you couldn’t open the mall as scheduled because the fire permits weren’t ready.

I had “liked” your Facebook page and followed your 10-day countdown to the June 11 opening day. With four more days to go, you wrote on Facebook: “Come rain or shine, we’ll make sure you have a great time.”

Yes, come rain or shine, but apparently, not come lack of fire permits.

Even your tenants were caught off-guard. They were told only on Monday night that the next day’s opening was cancelled.

It was almost as disappointing as McDonald’s running out of The Frog Prince Hello Kittys in less than a day.

I mean, Jem eventually opened, but The Frog Prince Hello Kitty is gone forever.

The spokesman for Select Group, which owns Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert, told The Straits Times: “Lend Lease (the company that developed Jem) wanted us to rush to open on the 11th, so we paid contractors more to work 24 hours. That was a big waste.”

Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert, which hired six people to work at the Jem outlet, had to throw food away. Nothing breaks my heart like throwing away food.

I couldn’t understand how anyone running a gargantuan 241-store mall could make a monumental mistake like this.

And then I read the media coverage of the “administrative issues” and it hit me – it was all just a sneaky publicity stunt!

So sneaky that your own tenants weren’t in on it.

Come on, do you really expect us to believe that you could be so incompetent as to not apply for the fire permits in time?

And that you were actually planning to open the mall on a Tuesday?

Who goes shopping on Tuesdays? There’s a reason Gelare offers a discount on its waffles only on Tuesdays.

When you finally opened yesterday – a Saturday, naturally – you got more hype than you would have if you had opened four days earlier as scheduled.

Now, thanks to the “administrative issues”, even people who don’t live in the western part of Singapore would be curious to visit the mall that couldn’t get its fire permits ready for its opening. Even the haze won’t deter the rubberneckers.

But you know what ultimately gave the game away?

When the delay of the opening was first reported, Jem’s development director Chris Brown was quoted as saying: “It’s been delayed to a date yet to be determined, due to an administrative regulatory issue.”

So the name of the Jem spokesman is the same as the guy who beat up Rihanna?

Yeah, right. I can’t wait to meet your CEO Usher and your chairman Kanye West.

They bring a whole different meaning to the word “jam”.

So congratulations on pulling off the greatest mall opening publicity coup ever!

Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me.

If I lie, you can call Triple Nine.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 June 2013

2014 UPDATE: The fault in our Jem – here come the waterworks

That weird moment when your son grows taller than you

Father's Day?

Here is a recent photo of football star Fandi Ahmad with his sons.

Here is former captain of Singapore’s national football team Nazri Nasir with his sons.

Notice something? The father is not the tallest guy in the pictures.

When my son grew taller than me a few years ago, I wasn't sure how I felt.

I sort of felt proud and a little emasculated at the same time.

As if he didn't have enough trouble looking up to me.

And he doesn't even play football.

Friday 14 June 2013

Jem's countdown to non-opening on Facebook

June 1

In just 10 days, we will be opening the doors to a whole lot of happy and memorable shopping experiences! Hands up if you are excited for this!

June 2

9 more days of waiting… and the fun begins!

June 3

We are sure most of you can't contain your excitement 'cause it's 8 days till we open!

June 4

7 days to happiness! Make sure you bring along your friends for your first visit to Jem!

June 5

Jem will be open in just 6 days! See you soon!

June 6

The wait is almost over! 5 days till Jem is open!

June 7

Come rain or shine, we'll make sure you have a great time! 4 days till we're open!!!

June 8

Happiness is just around the corner… see you in 3 days!

June 9

2 days to go! Now, get ready for Jem!

June 10

1 day till Jem's big day! Are you all getting giddy and excited?

June 11

Hello everyone, we are very sorry to announce that we will not be opening today.

We are doing everything we can to bring the Jem experience to you, as soon as possible. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused and will update everyone on the opening date as soon as we can.

The Straits Times: Jem mall delays opening over 'admin issues'

The highly anticipated Jem mall in Jurong East did not open on Tuesday as planned, surprising some of its major tenants.

In a statement at press time late Monday night, Australian developer Lend Lease said it will be shifting the opening date back, citing "administrative issues".

Earlier, it had announced to much fanfare that the 241-store mall would open on Tuesday.

It even conducted a tour for the media, told tenants to prepare themselves and fixed an opening celebration ceremony on Thursday. Tenants including The Soup Spoon had even stationed staff at Jurong East MRT station nearby to give out fliers announcing their opening in Jem.

"We were anticipating having received all the necessary endorsements by the end of business today. However, that was not the case," said Jem's development director Chris Brown on Monday. "We have therefore taken the difficult decision of not opening the mall to the public tomorrow in order to adhere to regulatory requirements."

He added: "This is in the best interests of the public and the retailers... We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused and we will notify the public on the new opening date as soon as possible."

The Straits Times understands that the opening date will be moved back till beyond June 13.

When contacted Monday night, retailers like Swedish fashion brand H&M were taken by surprise.

Its marketing manager Lisa Chai was still preparing for the scheduled opening at its new three-storey outlet at Jem when The Straits Times contacted her at 10.40pm. "We are all geared up for the opening. I am very shocked," she said, adding that she will be calling Lend Lease immediately for answers.

Do-it-yourself store Home-Fix's managing director Low Cheong Kee said he was told to open on Thursday.

"As far as I know, we are still opening on that date," he said, adding that the mall's opening date has already been pushed back before."

"Another delay would be unfair. We rushed things to open on time and that pushed up our renovation costs."

Lend Lease won the site in a government public tender in June 2010, beating five other offers with its bid of $748.9 million. Last month, the media had reported that Jem would officially open to the public on May 29.

Its tenants include 59 brands new to the suburbs, including department store Robinsons and H&M. Lingerie brand Victoria's Secret, Books Kinokuniya and cosmetic chain Sephora will also open their first suburban stores at the six-storey mall in Jurong Gateway Road.

When it opens, Jem will be the third-largest suburban mall in Singapore, after Jurong Point and nex mall in Serangoon Central.

It expects to attract more than 50,000 shoppers a day.

Lend Lease was also the developer of Orchard's 313@Somerset and Parkway Parade.

Jem making 'good progress' in processing required fire permits

According to a media statement from the Jurong mall's Development Director, Mr Chris Brown, they are making "good progress" in processing the required fire permits from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) before they can open.

Said Mr Brown: "With the T.O.P. of the building’s retail component received on 31 May, the base building has received all necessary approvals.

"We are making good progress of processing the final permits required for the tenants to commence trading.

"Until these are in place, we continue to maintain the difficult position of not opening the mall to the public in order to adhere to regulatory requirements.

"We are focusing on getting Jem opened as soon as possible.

"We look forward to advising you on the new opening date as soon as we have the information. "

Jem announced on June 11 over its Facebook page that they would not be opening as scheduled. The post garnered over 100 comments, with many expressing their disappointment and frustration.

Jem added in another post on Tuesday that they were sorry for the delay and would give a token of appreciation to shoppers who made their way there between 10am to 11am.

June 13

Hello everyone, thank you all so much for your patience and support. We’re happy to share that Jem will be opening this Saturday, 15 June. See you then!

The Straits Times: Some tenants seeking compensation for manpower, rental, wastage costs

Jurong East's Jem mall will finally open tomorrow after a four-day delay, for which some tenants want compensation.

Jem's development director Chris Brown confirmed the 10am opening but said the matter was confidential when asked if compensation was on the cards.

The 241-store mall did not open as scheduled on Tuesday as not every unit had been issued the required fire permit. At least a Temporary Fire Permit is needed by both the mall itself and its individual units to begin operations.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force told The Straits Times all outstanding fire safety applications had been processed and approved by noon yesterday.

Applications were to have been submitted by the mall's architect. When contacted, SAA Architects declined comment.

Jem, located near Jurong East MRT station, was developed by Australian developer Lend Lease, which also developed Parkway Parade and 313@Somerset.

Tenants, who were given the new opening date yesterday, said they were told only on Monday night that the next day's opening was off.

Ms Chloe Sng, the senior marketing manager of Select Group, which is opening a restaurant, Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert, said: "Lend Lease wanted us to rush to open on the 11th, so we paid contractors more to work 24 hours. That was a big waste."

The restaurant chain, which hired six people to work at the basement-level outlet, had to throw food away.

"We had all the food on standby. Some items could be moved to other outlets, but many outlets didn't need more stock," she said.

"We hope the management will look into the issue and see how they can help us."

Other tenants had bins stuffed with decaying congratulatory wreaths and retail staff they had to pay who did not work.

Chief executive of electronics retail chain Epicentre, Mr Jimmy Fong, said manpower losses for the 12 employees hired for its two outlets at Jem came up to about $4,000.

"Rent was supposed to kick in on the 11th. We will be negotiating for no rental for the first four days," he said. "We also had additional staff hanging around doing nothing and being paid. We also want to negotiate for the loss of sales opportunity."

At least one other tenant, Dragon Brand Bird's Nest, will also be asking for compensation for manpower and rental costs.

Nearby residents had been looking forward to the opening of Jem, which boasts 59 tenants new to the suburbs, including fashion retailer H&M, lingerie brand Victoria's Secret and Books Kinokuniya. A 10-screen Cathay cinema complex, a water playground and a 70,000 sq ft FairPrice Xtra will open at a later date.

Lend Lease hopes to attract more than 50,000 shoppers a day from areas including Bukit Batok, Clementi and Upper Bukit Timah.

Ms Adele Teo, 38, an engineer from Bukit Batok, was at Jem on Tuesday, but was directed away by mall staff. "I will visit Jem some time next week," she said. "I am looking forward to shopping at H&M."

UPDATE: Jem's jam more shocking than Wong Li-lin's divorce