Wednesday 31 July 2013

payWave goodbye to quick checkout at NTUC FairPrice

I once saw this ad in the cinema about how using the Visa payWave card allows you to "fly through" the checkout lane at the supermarket.

I decided to try it at the Sun Plaza NTUC FairPrice yesterday, mainly because I wanted the free bread I can get by using payWave if I'm charging over $30.

The cashier asked which kind of bread I wanted. I said "the green one", which is the wholemeal bread, since I'm (ahem) health-conscious and it costs more ($1.65) than "the orange one", ie white bread ($1.25).

I soon regretted my decision.

The cashier didn't have any bread at her counter. So she went around asking for bread from the other cashiers, but they had only white bread.

My cashier then disappeared into the supermarket, leaving me stranded at her counter with my groceries and a growing line of shoppers waiting to pay. The woman behind me made it a point to look at her watch.

Dammit, I should've said the orange one.

My cashier eventually returned, carrying a few loaves of bread, both green and orange. Finally! I thought, I was on my way.

But then she had to find a voucher for the free bread in her cashier's drawer, scan the barcode on the voucher and rubberstamp the voucher. Despite her commendable speed, every move seemed to take an eternity.

I refrained from looking at the woman behind me to see if she's checking her watch again.

When it finally finally came time for me to actually pay, I realised I may not have the right card.

Oh my god, I was going to cause a riot.

Over a loaf of bread

Fortunately, my UOB Visa card worked. I fled the supermarket relatively unscathed.

All that just to save $1.65.

Damn you, Visa payWave! Your commercial lied to me!

Tuesday 30 July 2013

The long tortured death of my balloon Singing Bone Hello Kitty

A month ago, my wife bought me a balloon Singing Bone Hello Kitty from VivoCity.

This is the photo documentation of its gradual demise as the air slowly leaves its being.

In happier times:

Sunday 28 July 2013

Social media – where every day is April Fool’s Day

Don’t believe everything you read. Or at least, don’t take it too seriously.

Last month, I wrote a column about Aaron Aziz being named Singapore’s Most Popular Actor at the Social Star Awards. The headline was: “Aaron Aziz has so many followers on Instagram, he may require an MDA licence.”

The Straits Times republished the article on its website and tweeted about it. Someone, presumably an Aaron Aziz fan, responded on Twitter: “That was the last straw. MDA, YOU’VE COMPLETELY LOST IT.”

Apparently, this person had barely tolerated the Media Development Authority’s recently announced licensing scheme for Singapore news websites, but once the Government threatened to regulate his or her favorite actor’s Instagram account, that was crossing the line.

Of course, Aaron doesn’t really need to get an MDA licence despite having more than a quarter of a million Instagram followers. Like almost everything I do, that headline was a joke.

I thought the idea of MDA requiring the former Heartlanders star to get a licence for his Instagram was so ridiculous that no one could possibly believe it was true.

Once again, I was wrong.

Fortunately, another person replied to the tweet, explaining: “NOT TRUE LAH. SM Ong writes parody articles.”

But the fan remained unforgiving and tweeted back: “Okay, that’s a relief, my bad. But still, the new licensing regimes for ‘news’ sites is fucking stupid.”

MDA just can’t catch a break.

Still, I sympathise with the Aaron Aziz fan. With the overwhelming amount of information being shared on social media literally every second, it can be hard to tell what is true and what is a joke.

Every day can be April Fool’s Day. Even in July.

For instance, I read on Facebook last week that, thanks to Singapore, the United Nations has designated Nov 19 as World Toilet Day.

At first, I dismissed it as a fake news story, like those from The Onion, a satirical website based in the US. I wasn’t letting myself get punked.

I mean, I get it. Since Singaporeans have already bottled recycled sewage water as drinking water, it would be just like us to propose a World Toilet Day to the UN.

And people accuse me of toilet humour.

But then I saw the story repeated on the websites MDA want to regulate and I realised, wait a minute, this World Toilet Day thing is for real.

That realisation nearly made me choke on my NEWater. Cough.

Also on Facebook last week, I read this headline: “Din Tai Fung bracing its restaurants for toothpick thievery.”

I assumed this had to be true since The Straits Times had reported that minister Lim Swee Say had said that he is so impressed by the toothpicks of the Din Tai Fung restaurant chain that he “pinches” half a box every visit.

As it turned out, the headline was from a satirical website called, a sort of local version of The Onion.

That means the part about a cabinet minister blithely fessing up to pilferage is true (since it was in the non-satirical Straits Times), but the part about Din Tai Fung preparing for a run on its toothpicks was a joke... I think.

Mr Lim does seem to have nice teeth.

But sometimes a joke may not turn out the way you expect.

Last Sunday, 65-year-old former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian posted on Facebook:
“I downloaded a thermometer app. It showed outside temperature to be 32.6 C. I was not sure if it was accurate. I put the phone into the fridge for 5 mins and took it out. It (s)till showed 32.6 C. Is this app working correctly?”

He later realised his gaffe, but it had already gone viral. Some weren’t sure if Mr Tan was joking, but others mocked him.

Blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as Mr Brown, joked that “We could have had him for President” and “Good thing he didn't try to measure boiling water”, adding “Fail indeed”.

A few commenters took umbrage at the gibe. One wrote:
“Mr. Tan is old-school, in his late 60s, and speaks his mind. There’s nothing shameful about his lack of understanding of iPhone.

“Would you make fun of your parents if they don’t know iPhone?

“Shame on you, Mr Brown.”

It didn’t stop there. Mr Brown posted on Facebook:
“Wow, the Tan Kin Lian fan club has descended on my blog. Now invoking my autistic daughter, Faith, too. Nice.”

Mr Brown was referring to this comment:
“Satire is fine. exaggeration, mimicry all in good humor. stirring shit i condone. but this goes way beyond all of those in that it is a personal attack on someone else's ineptitude.

“really, as someone who wields such sway over public opinion, do you need to stoop this low?

“you once talked at length about the challenges of parenting Faith, about how it made you understand the world and its struggles a little better.

“as father to a child born with severe learning disability this resonated with me tremendously and i was instantly won over.

“today these notions of noblesse oblige lie in shambles and i am convinced you are nothing more than a hypocrite who plays to whatever the crowd wants to hear.

“like my son, Faith will come of age someday. neither of us will be around to fend for them completely, their fate rests in the hands of society.

“will it be kind? will it hold them up when they fall? will they be helped along, even if they are not as fast or as smart as the rest? or will they be mocked, shamed, and branded as 'fails'?

“i know that you think scorning a public figure sets this apart from how we treat the challenged.

“yet this is a slippery slope that seeds itself in the minds of our youth. it makes them less forgiving and hinders their ability to see things from the eyes of the less fortunate.”

And yet it’s okay for everyone to scorn this year’s National Day song?

As for Mr Tan, he later explained his Facebook post:
“I posted the item to see if other people also realised it. A few people knew the answer and posted the reply politely.

“Some other people took the chance to post insulting remarks. It shows their narrow-minded(ness) and rude character and their lack of a sense of humour.”

Wait, so he was trolling us all along? Et tu, Mr Tan?

Now I’m confused. So can you really tell the temperature with the iPhone or not?

Someone please let me know before World Toilet Day.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 July 2013

Monday 22 July 2013

In case you see me in today's Straits Times...

I want to make it clear that...

... never in real life have I ever said "Come party with me" ...

... or "I'm SM Ong and I tickle your funny bone (at least I try to) in my Act Blur column in The New Paper on Sunday".

I wonder if this is what happened to John Lui.

Sunday 21 July 2013

In defence of the new National Day song, One Singapore

Here we go again.


It seems that every year around this time, just as the annual Great Singapore Sale comes to a close, it’s open season on the new National Day theme song.

Like the parade, fireworks and Gurmit Singh urging NDP spectators to “make some noise”, hating the new National Day song has also become the great annual Singapore tradition.

Remember how the video for Love At First Light was mocked last year?

This year's song, One Singapore, appears to have transcended tradition and attained a whole new level of loathsomeness.

The Straits Times’ headline, “National Day song hits a few sour notes”, is the definition of understatement.

The New Paper’s headline was more to the point: “Netizens slam NDP 2013 song.

One common complaint is that it’s cheesy. That’s like complaining that cheese is cheesy.

It’s a song for National Day! It’s supposed to be cheesy!

What do you want? Lyrics about staying up all night to get lucky?

Another criticism is that the song, sung joyously by a choir of 68 Singaporeans, seems to be aimed at very young people.

So I asked two very young people I know, my kids, what they thought of the song.

My son, 16, said: “I hear High School Musical with a Singaporean twist. It’s almost better than the Fun Pack Song, but that’s not really saying much. The lyrics also do not seem to fit the melody, not poetic at all. The rap lyrics especially. Do I hear the word ‘recess’?”

Sure, it’s only “almost better” than the Fun Pack Song, but then One Singapore composer Elaine Chan didn’t filch the tune from Lady Gaga.

Perhaps my son isn’t young enough to appreciate the youthful appeal of the song. So I turned to my daughter, who’s two years younger.

She said: “The singing isn’t very good. Whether or not it is on purpose is not clear. The hook sucks. What the hell do they think they are doing – ‘woah woah’? The rapping? Sucks. Children rapping is one of the most annoying things ever.”

Now that’s just mean.

Well, being young at heart (but middle-aged at every other body part), I like the song.

And I don’t mean ironically.

I wear polo shirts ironically (since I don’t play polo), but I genuinely enjoy this year’s National Day song.

I love the high part in the verse where they go, “Together, we can reach for the stars.” I even dig the “woah woah” part that my daughter detests.

I’m not so keen on the rapping though.

Just because Shigga Shay can rap his way to the top of the iTunes chart with LimPeh doesn’t mean we want rapping in our National Day song too.

Hey, maybe LimPeh should be our National Day song!

Either that or the theme song from Ah Boys To Men Part 1.

Or the one from Ah Boys To Men Part 2.

Rapping aside, I believe One Singapore would’ve been better received if it had been released together with the video, which only appeared on YouTube a few days after the song's release.

Without the video, the group vocals sound like a mess. With the video, at least you know why they sound like a mess.

There’s a cover version by a local band called Pitch Feather that’s more stripped down with decidedly fewer singers, which has received kudos.

This would suggest that the problem is not with the song itself but with the arrangement.

By the way, the cover also eschews the rap about recess.

But I’m grateful that NDP music director Chan and lyricist (and NDP creative director) Serena Tan didn’t go the mellow route with their song.

Otherwise, netizens would’ve groused that it’s boring, like the dreary ballad-type National Day songs of the last three years, which were basically failed attempts to recreate the success of Dick Lee's treacly favourite, Home.

(The 2009 song was What Do You See by Electrico, which was more “rock” and my favorite, along with Mr Brown’s Hokkien version.)

What I find ironic is that after slamming One Singapore, some of the haters would praise the “classics”, Stand Up For Singapore, Count On Me Singapore and We Are Singapore.

I’m old enough to remember that when these songs were introduced in the 80s, they were also slammed for being cheesy, meant for children and clumsy propaganda. Of course, there was no such thing as “netizens” back then.

Perhaps in 30 years, One Singapore will also be nostalgically regarded as a classic.

Nah, I’m kidding. Nobody even remembers the National Day song from three years ago – although it seems people will remember the Fun Pack Song from 2011 for a while yet.

And it wasn’t even the National Day theme song that year. You know what was?

In A Heartbeat.

Which was probably how long it took you to forget the song.

But like the reviled Fun Pack Song, this year’s National Day song has achieved a notoriety that it will not be forgotten for years to come – no matter how hard you try.

And the tradition continues.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 July 2013

Dear Mr. SM Ong (ACT BLUR),

I was reading your article on the new NDP song at a coffee shop last Sunday (21July 2013) morning and thought I should pen my thoughts on my mobile phone and it is given below:

SEAP Games 1973 (then called South East Asia Peninsular Games) I remember that time at Hilton Hotel, 1973. It was the conclusion of the SEAP Games held in the newly completed national stadium at Kallang. The dinner was held for the various participating cycling contingents.

We were the host and as with many multiple-nations occasions, each team was asked to sing a song. The Laotians, Thais, Indonesians and Malaysians and others rendered their contributions, all in their national languages. I remembered Bangawan Solo snd Rasa Sayang were sung by the Indonesians and Malaysians, as I myself know these songs in Bahasa language.

Then it was the host turn as they have to give the concluding wrap-up song. The team of cyclists assembled at the mike and started to discuss which song to render, showing their unpreparedness. At last, they agreed and the song was the hit song of that month – Beautiful Sunday.

How embarrassed we were. No national song that brings the flavor of Singapore!

So when I was with my classmates at Cranfield University for our three weeks MBA induction classes in Bedford in 1990, I brought with us the various perennial hits – Singapura (Aneka Gronloh), Di-Tanjong Katong, Geylang and a few others. This is because we had to do a presentation on the final night farewell dinner. The Malaysian in fact joined us as they knew some of these songs.

What then is a Singapore song?

1. Preferably the lyrics should be written in the National Language? But not all Singaporeans can speak that language, unlike the kampong boy that I am.

2. It should remind Singaporeans some part of the land – the flora, fauna or land mark? Tanjong Katong is still there. Geylang is quite notorious to a certain extend. Or the food – friend rice paradise? Chilli crabs and fish-head curry, perhaps.

So what is the weakness about this NDP song?

Sung one year and it is forgotten. It does not touch the heart strings of the majority of Singaporeans. Even the MPs might not even know those songs, miming wordlessly at the parade. With patriotic emotions incorporated in the lyrics, these songs may be considered to ‘emo’ on social gatherings and informal happy occasions. They may even be considered as inappropriate for such occasions.

Let us look for songs that will willing be sung by Singaporeans, who will feel nostalgic or connected to the descriptions of its various elements that represent Singapore and are truly proud of it.

Never mind the NDP songs, just for the occasion, but these are unlikely to endear to the hearts of the native Singaporeans. A song that would make even the infrequent visitors and permanent FTs (foreign talents) want to include in their repertoire when living in Singapore.

Happy National Day!

Tan Thian Seng

EARLIER: We don’t need a new National Day song every year because...

Friday 19 July 2013

My National Day song YouTube marathon

Because I'm a patriot. (And a masochist).

Cover versions:

If you think this year's National Day song is bad...

Mr Brown version:

In 2004, they recycled Home.

Bonus track:


Tuesday 16 July 2013

He who dares say a movie stinks

In The Straits Times today:

"There are journalists and critics who are loved by movie companies. I am not one of them. Why? Because when a movie stinks, I say so."
Apparently, The Straits Times' John Lui is the only movie critic who dares say a movie stinks.

He's such a bad-ass.

Let's just hope he actually watches the whole movie before saying it stinks.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Never mind the Minions, here’s the rendang burger death match

History repeating itself? So soon?

Last week on its Facebook page, a fast food chain announced that due to “overwhelming support”, it was running out of an item “way before schedule”.

For once, the item isn’t McDonald’s Hello Kitty toy. That’s so last month.

It’s also not one of the three Minion toys that McDonald’s is giving away with its Happy Meals, although the cute yellow and blue characters from the movie Despicable Me were all gone when I went to look for them on Thursday night.

All I saw was a sign at McDonald’s that said: “This week’s Despicable Me 2 Happy Meal toys had been fully redeemed.”

The sign triggered painful flashbacks to the night I queued and failed to get the Singing Bone Hello Kitty two weeks ago. The horror, the horror.

I was so disoriented that I ordered a Happy Meal anyway. Instead of a Minion toy, I was given a Hello Kitty toy, which triggered another round of flashbacks. The horror, the horror, the horror, the horror.

I’ve read that Malaysia is currently in the grip of its own Hello Kitty-like craze – over the Minions. McDonald’s customers across the causeway are reportedly keeping the toys and dumping the Happy Meals by the trolley load.

They have become minions to the Minions.

But I shouldn’t laugh at our neighbours up north as Singapore is in only the first week of the Despicable Me 2 promotion. There are still two sets of Minions to be released over the next two weeks.

The five-week Hello Kitty promotion started quietly and built up to a frenzy only in the last two weeks.

Well, the last two weeks of the Despicable Me 2 promotion are the next two weeks. I expect at least one viral video of frustrated Minion-less queuers arguing with McDonald’s employees before the end of the month. Get the riot police ready.

Anyway, the Facebook post I mentioned earlier wasn’t even by McDonald’s. It was by Burger King.

BK posted on Wednesday: “Due to your overwhelming support, we’re running out of the rendang burgers way before schedule. We apologise for that and we thank you for supporting the original rendang burger!”

I wasn’t sure how to react to this. On the one hand, it’s refreshing for a fast food chain to announce that it’s running out of food instead of a toy for a change.

On the other hand, how can Burger King run out of any burger? Isn’t it like, uh... the king of burgers?

This was especially disappointing to me since I was planning my own Singapore food face-off between Burger King’s rendang burger and McDonald’s rendang burger, inspired by last Sunday’s SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge with Gordon Ramsay.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the Burger King outlet at Causeway Point on Friday and discovered that the rendang burger was still available.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim should chastise Burger King in parliament for causing unnecessary anxiety by spreading false online rumours about its own burger.

Anyway, the good news is the Burger King versus McDonald’s rendang burger death match is back on!

First, a little back story.

According to, Burger King created the rendang burger way back in 1987. In 2009, the burger was named one of Travel+Leisure magazine’s global top five burgers.

Then in June 2011, after 24 years, Burger King took the rendang burger off the menu.

Someone was so upset by this that he or she created a Facebook page called “Boycott BK for killing off rendang burger”. The page has 28 likes the last time I checked.

The most recent update was eight days ago. It read: “Given that the rendang burger is back at BK Singapore for a limited period, the call for boycott by this page is suspended for this limited period.”

Did the Facebook campaign have anything to do with Burger King bringing back the rendang burger? I’m going to say no.

Four days later on the day of Burger King's misleading Facebook post, McDonald’s launched its own rendang burger as part of its Singapura Feast, which also includes curry Shaker fries, durian McFlurry and Rose McFizz (not to be confused with Rose McGowan).

It was a declaration of war.

And having tasted the rendang burgers from both Burger King and McDonald’s, I declare the winner of the food fight is... the rendang burger without the mayonnaise.

That would be McDonald’s.

The King is dead! Long live the Clown’s rendang burger!

Burger King’s rendang burger is no longer the same as the one that was named one of Travel+Leisure magazine’s global top five burgers in 2009.

That one had sliced onions and no mayo. This one has chopped onions and, yes, mayonnaise.

Rendang with mayo is a crime against nature and all taste buds.

I hope someone starts a Facebook campaign to boycott Burger King for adding the mayonnaise.

It’s despicable.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 July 2013

APRIL 2014 UPDATE: The BK rendang burger is back - this time without mayo.

SEPTEMBER 2014 UPDATE: The BK rendang burger is back for good.

Monday 8 July 2013

Jurong Lake Run: Close encounter of the Tharman kind

So I finished the 10km Jurong Lake Run in just under an hour (58 minutes 22.48 seconds to be exact) yesterday morning.

This was how I looked before and after the run.

Before the run, I was waiting for the flag-off near the starting line at the side when I was caught off-guard by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam who came from behind me to shake my hand on his way to the stage to do the flag-off.

But then he held my hand and sort of stared at me for a few uncomfortably long seconds.

I was actually afraid he might have recognised me as the guy who badmouthed him in my New Paper column a year ago.

Then I figured he must have asked me a question and I couldn't hear him because I had my earphones on.

He was waiting for my reply which never came. Who asked him to sneak up on me like that?

He eventually moved on and went to shake someone else's hand.

So I managed to diss the deputy prime minister at the Jurong Lake Run for two years in a row.

Can't wait for next year's Jurong Lake Run.

The Safra Half Marathon on Sept 1 is next.

Sunday 7 July 2013

I've never heard of the 'hawker heroes'? Have you?

This may not come as a shock to you, but I’m a bit blur.

I don’t know a lot of things. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, since there are just too many things in the universe to know.

But I’m troubled when so many people seem to know something that I don’t.

For instance, I didn’t know there’s a Singapore rapper named Shigga Shay.

Do you?

His real name is Pek Jin Shan and I’ve never heard of him either.

But many people must know who he is for his song LimPeh to top the local iTunes chart, outselling singers I've actually heard of like Pink, Lana Del Ray and Justin Timberlake.

How did this happen?

I thought local musicians are only allowed to become famous by joining local rip-offs of Pop Idol like The Final 1 on Channel 5. You can be a star only after Ken Lim say you are.

I also didn’t know there’s such a thing called the Malaysian Super League.

Is this the Malaysian version of the Justice League with superhero members like Cicak Man, Boleh Man, Warna Woman, Green Ketupat and Aaron Aziz?

No, it’s the football league that Singapore’s LionsXII won last Tuesday by beating Felda United.

Needless to say, I’ve never heard of Felda United too. I’ve heard of The Legend Of Zelda though. Does that count?

But I suppose my ignorance of Shigga Shay and Malaysian football is excusable since I’m not a big fan of local music or sports.

Then last week, The New Paper reported the death of “cheng tng hawker icon” Andrew Lim Seng Ann of Ye Lai Xiang Cheng Tng.

Two weeks earlier, The Straits Times had reported that another hawker, Mr Ng Ba Eng of “well-known” wonton noodle stall Eng’s Noodle House, also died.

Before the much-hyped SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge at Newton Circus Food Centre tonight, a bunch of “hawker heroes” were shortlisted to face British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. They were:
  • Mr Ryan Koh of 328 Katong Laksa
  • Mr Tan Chee Eng of Eng Ho Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee
  • Mr Ang Kiam Meng of Jumbo Seafood Restaurant
  • Madam Jenny Lim of Hai Sheng Carrot Cake
  • Mr Ng Chang Siang of Hill Street Char Kway Teow
  • Madam Betty Kong of Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint
  • Mr Choong Yee Hong of New Lucky Claypot Chicken Rice
  • Mr Teo Aik Cheng of Noo Cheng Adam Road Prawn Mee
  • Madam Gwee Guek Hwa of Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha
  • Mr Malik Hassan of Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak
  • Mr Haji Mohammed and Mr Al Malik Faisal of Sin Ming Roti Prata
  • Madam Foo Kui Lian of Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Okay, my question is, am I the only person in Singapore who has never heard of any of these hawkers (dead or alive) or their stalls?

Well, except Jumbo Seafood Restaurant.

But then the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant guy can’t really be called a hawker since, as the name suggests, Jumbo Seafood Restaurant is a restaurant and not a hawker stall.

And it’s not just a restuarant, but a chain of restaurants. You might as well call Ronald McDonald a hawker.

I can’t wait to see how Ramsay will react when he finds out. I hope the host of The F Word uses the name of his show.

I know I get confused by another F word whenever someone describes some food stall at such and such place as “famous”.

How can something be famous if I’ve never heard of it?

Granted, I’m not KF Seetoh or a “foodie”. But if you have to be KF Seetoh or a “foodie” to have heard of the food stall, then how famous can it be?

Granted, I’m also a bit blur, but... actually, I have no argument for that.

Just because a food stall is featured in Makansutra, in a newspaper or magazine article, or in one of the gazillion food shows on TV doesn’t necessarily make it famous.

It’s only “famous” to the people who happened to see Makansutra, the article or the TV show.

But one thing’s for sure. After tonight’s SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge with Ramsay, the stalls (and one restaurant chain) of the three “hawker heroes” chosen to face him — Tian Tian Chicken Rice, 328 Katong Laksa and Jumbo Seafood — can be legitimately called famous.

Even I have heard of them.

They couldn’t be more well-known if Shigga Shay had rapped about them.

Now if only someone could arrange a face-off between Ramsay and Ken Lim, that could be more exciting than a Malaysian Super League match.

SingTel boleh?

- Published in The New Paper, 7 July 2013