Sunday 29 September 2013

The Great Singapore 'Tuition' Dilemma: How to pronounce it?

“90 marks is never enough.”

That was the headline last week for a Straits Times report about how even straight-A students are going for tuition.

Only 90 marks? I remember a time when even 99 marks wasn’t enough for my mother.

Oh, how our standards have fallen.

When I brought home a test score of less than 100 per cent, the only tuition I got was the beating of my life from my mother.

But since I was very young then and hadn’t lived many years, any beating would’ve been the beating of my life.

I used to believe that as a child, I was made to wear short pants instead of long pants to allow my parents to strike the vast exposed flesh of my legs with a rattan cane at greater convenience.

Perhaps our hot climate was also a factor, but easy access to cane-able skin surface was the main goal.

If I beat my own kids every time they get less than full marks in school, I would be typing this column on an Asus computer in prison where I had been sent for child abuse and the unrelated fashion crime of wearing Crocs.

Yes, I imagine I would have the use of an Asus computer in prison. A Macbook Pro would be too pie-in-the-sky.

Luckily for students nowadays, tuition rarely involves much physical trauma.

So instead of beating them, I send my two kids to tuition classes. I’m not sure if tuition does them any good, but it makes me feel as a parent that at least I’m doing something, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes.

And even if my kids’ grades don’t improve, I’m afraid to stop the tuition for fear that without tuition, their results would be even worse.

And that’s how the great tuition industrial complex sucks you in.

Beating my kids would’ve been cheaper. I’m spending a small fortune on these tuition classes.

One evening, I went to wait for my daughter outside the tuition centre and got worried when she didn’t come out after more than half an hour after her class was supposed to have ended. All the kids who came out were not my daughter.

My wife called and demanded to know where I was.

I said I was waiting outside the tuition centre. My wife said I couldn’t be because my daughter had just called her and had been waiting for half an hour outside the tuition centre.

That was when I realised I was at the wrong tuition centre! My daughter was at the Chinese tuition centre while I was waiting for her outside the maths tuition centre.

I need tuition to keep track of what tuition classes my children are taking.

But my biggest problem with tuition is the way it’s pronounced.

For a while, my son insisted on pronouncing it as three syllables, as in “too-ish-uhn”, for the unreasonable reason that it’s the correct pronunciation.

It made him sound like a prig (which is a polite alternative to another similar sounding word I wanted to use).

What hast thou wrought, Speak Good English Movement?

The movement’s website says that “tuition” is commonly mispronounced as “tu-tion”, which is of course how most Singaporeans pronounce it.

Have you tried correcting someone’s pronunciation? They seldom say “thank you” afterwards.

An argument about whether it’s the British or American pronunciation is more likely to ensue.

I remember when I was in the navy, an officer was briefing the crew on the procedure for abandoning ship, but he kept mispronouncing it as “abundant ship” until I couldn't take it any more and interrupted him to tell him it should be “abandon ship”.

Everyone looked at me as if they were going to throw me into the sea.

But my son’s too proper pronunciation of “tuition” presented a slightly different problem.

My dilemma was, should I correct his correct pronunciation?

Is it so important to be right? Or is it more important not to be the odd one out?

I decided to tell my son that although his pronunciation of “tuition” was correct, be aware that being correct could get him thrown into the sea one day. The choice was his.

My 16-year-old son has since caved and is now mispronouncing “tuition” like every full-blooded Singaporean should. It’s our right to be wrong.

I’m glad I didn’t have to beat him. He’s already wearing long pants.

But it’s also a little sad that my son had to give in to fit in.

What hast thou wrought on our country’s children, “tu-tion”?

Fortunately, I’m a good swimmer.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 September 2013

Sunday 22 September 2013

Closed, cancelled & Jemmed: New iPhone still can’t play CDs

It has been 15 years since the popular US TV sitcom Seinfeld ended. But last week, I was reminded of a favorite episode from the series.

In the episode, the character Jerry is trying to figure out the name of a woman he was dating. All he knew was that her name rhymed with a part of the female anatomy. One of his (incorrect) guesses was that her name was Mulva.

On Friday, the new iPhone was launched. First in line at The Paragon’s M1 store was a 23-year-old poly student who had been queueing since the day before. He was also first in line for the iPhone launch last year, in 2011 and 2010. I suppose you can call him a serial queuer.

His name? Mr Melva Yip.

Congratulations to him for getting the gold iPhone 5s, which was reportedly the fastest to be sold out. The other colours are silver and black – sorry, I mean “space grey”.

I notice that the gold part is only at the back and the sides of the phone. The front is white. So if I put my old white iPhone 5 in a case that covers its back and sides, I can pretend I have a gold iPhone 5s.

Mr Yip is lucky that he wasn’t queueing at Jem, where the ceiling could’ve fallen on him.

Jem announced on Thursday that it was “closed until further notice” after the false ceiling collapsed, hurting three people.

Living in the western part of Singapore, I am saddened by the Jurong East mall’s closure.

But I promise to remain faithful. I will not go to the Uniqlo outlet at Causeway Point to get the $9.90 three-quarter sleeve Mickey Mouse T-shirt that’s on sale.

I will wait for Jem for re-open whenever that may be. (As long as it’s before 9.30 tonight because today is the last day of the sale.)

Besides having such fashionable tenants like Uniqlo, H & M and Old Chang Kee, Jem is also a trendsetter in other ways. Remember in June, how Jem cancelled its big opening just one day before due to lack of fire permits?

Cancelling something at the last minute is now the hip thing to do. Even the 1 World Music Festival jumped on the bandwagon last week.

Featuring such cool artists like Moby and Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion or Snoop Octopus, who knows anymore?), the festival was scheduled to take place at the Marina Barrage on Friday and yesterday but was cancelled just two days before opening due to poor ticket sales.

Let me tell you Jem was cancelling openings three months ago before it was cool.

Understandably, the 1 World cancellation wasn’t so cool to the people who had bought tickets, especially those overseas who were flying it for the event. I hope Ms Aung San Suu Kyi isn’t too disappointed.

What are these people going to do in Singapore now? If only there’s some other major event happening in Singapore this weekend.

Hmmm… can you think of anything?

Say again? I can’t hear you over the Formula One cars roaring past.

No, wait, that’s just someone playing Grand Theft Auto V too loudly. I’m not sure if he’s over 18.

No, wait, it's not a “he”. It’s Ms Aung San Suu Kyi!

And if the 1 World cancellation wasn’t enough bad news for music fans here, on the same day, local music store Gramophone announced that it “decided to close its business due to the difficult trading conditions and other challenges faced by the industry for some years now”.

What challenges? Well, for one thing, I now listen to music mostly on my pretend gold iPhone and even after I’ve updated to the new iOS 7, there’s still no slot on my iPhone to insert a compact disc.

Yet, I bought a CD from Gramophone as recently as three months ago when I could’ve downloaded the album from iTunes more cheaply. The album was It Just Comes Natural by country music superstar George Strait.

I was so disturbed by my behaviour that I asked a Facebook friend who is the editor of NPR Music in the US: “Am I a schmuck for still buying CDs?”

He answered: “I prefer CDs to MP3s as a general rule, if only because you’re getting uncompressed sound files – and, more to the point, the ability to pop a disc into your computer and magically produce MP3s where there were no MP3s before.

“My attachment to CDs has waned a bit as I’ve come to listen to them less (and as the literally tens of thousands of discs in my basement threaten to drag my house into the center of the earth), but they still represent the most versatile format in my mind...

“So, no, you’re not a schmuck for buying CDs.”

Next, I’m asking my friend whether I’m a schmuck if I am the first in line for the next four iPhone launches.

No, wait, “schmuck” is Yiddish for “penis”, which is a part of the male anatomy.

So what I should be asking instead is: “Am I a Melva if I am the first in line for the next four iPhone launches?”

I think the answer is yes.

By the way, the name of the woman Jerry was dating in the Seinfeld episode was Dolores.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 September 2013

From reader mike

Mulva so lame.

Is Virginia too obvious that he/you could not use it????

Sunday 15 September 2013

My 5 excuses for not watching Ilo Ilo

I’m sorry.

Yes, I’m apologising again.

And it’s not for mistaking Quah Kim Song for Ms Sylvia Lim’s mother last month.

I’m apologising for not going to see the local movie Ilo Ilo.

I mean, it’s understandable if you don’t want to watch Justice Devil starring Ris “boomz goes her weight” Low.

But Ilo Ilo is the movie that critics have been falling all over themselves to praise after the Anthony Chen film won the Camera d’Or for the best first feature at the Cannes Film Festival in May, probably the highest honour a Singapore movie has ever received. (Though I’ve never heard of the Camera d’Or before. Have you?)

According to the movie poster (which makes Ilo Ilo look like a Jack Neo-style slapstick comedy that it’s decidedly not), the Hollywood trade mag Variety said Ilo Ilo is “brimming with love, humour and heartbreak”.

The Straits Times called it a “heartland tale from the heart”. The Business Times put Ilo Ilo on “top of the heap because it has the most heart and cinematic flair”.

All right, I get it. The movie has a lot of heart. But disappointingly, no twerking.

Ilo Ilo, about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family, has also been selected as Singapore’s entry in the Best Foreign Language category of the Academy Awards next year. So watch out, Yuya Ishii of Japan!

On Wednesday, The Straits Times ran a big story about how Ilo Ilo has grossed only $500,000 after two weeks at the box office. This is less than the $700,000 the movie was made for. The headline asks: “Where is the audience?

For some reason, I felt like I was being scolded for not seeing the movie.

“Where’s your patriotism? Why aren’t you supporting our local film-maker? Don’t you know the film received a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes? How can foreigners appreciate a Singapore film more than Singaporeans do? Don’t come crying to us when all you get is Ah Boys To Men sequels!”

Now I feel guilty for watching Percy Jackson And The Sea Of Monsters last week. It didn’t win anything at Cannes at all.

I’m not proud to admit that I’m one of the many Singaporeans who are biased against local productions.

This is a little ironic considering I have been involved in a few local productions on TV as well as the ill-fated Phua Chu Kang movie.

So I know how dispiriting it is to work so hard on a show, only to have it dismissed or rejected simply because it’s “local”.

Yet, I still can’t bring myself to watch Ilo Ilo.

Here are my five excuses for not seeing the movie:


The title is not very relatable to Singaporeans.

When I first saw the title, I thought Ilo Ilo was the Japanese version of the old British TV sitcom ’Allo ’Allo.

Also, is it pronounced “Eye-lo Eye-lo” or “Ee-lo Ee-lo”?

I’m afraid to buy a ticket to see the movie in case the ticket seller laughs at me for mispronouncing the title. I’m very sensitive.

I blame Kelvin Tong. If the director hadn’t already taken the title The Maid for his 2005 horror flick, Chen’s film could’ve sold a few more tickets.


The trailer is kind of depressing.


It’s about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family.

Wasn’t there already a local movie about the same thing called The Maid?

So once again, it’s Tong’s fault.

Whereas Singaporeans can’t seem to get enough of local movies about the army and/or ghosts, I believe that once you’ve seen one local movie about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family, you’ve seen them all.

Actually, I’ve never seen The Maid.


I am also not planning to see the other big award winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, a French movie about lesbians.

And if I’m not interested in seeing a Palme d’Or-winning movie about French lesbians, I’m even less inclined to see a Camera d’Or-winning movie about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family.

At least I’m consistent in my non-watching of Cannes award winners.


Unlike the critics raving about Ilo Ilo, I actually have to pay to see it.

But honestly, I wouldn’t watch it even if it’s free. Which it will be when Ilo Ilo is shown on TV a couple of years from now.

Also, Ilo Ilo doesn’t seem to need my money. According to The Straits Times report, if the movie doesn’t earn enough in Singapore, it could still make money elsewhere.

Anyway, I think director Chen will do just fine even if Ilo Ilo fails to break even. He can dine out on the Cannes award alone for years to come.

And that’s more than I can say for myself after the PCK movie was released in 2010. I still haven’t seen it and people are still demanding that I apologise for writing the script.

I’m sorry.

(By the way, Ilo Ilo is the name of a place in the Philippines and is pronounced “Ee-lo Ee-lo”.)

- Published in The New Paper, 15 September 2013

Monday 9 September 2013

Don’t worry about the 10km run – the stairs will kill you

Once again, I failed to get much sleep before a mass run.

A week earlier, it was the Army Half Marathon. Yesterday morning, it was the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Salomon Vertical City Trail run.

I took the north-south train from Yew Tee to Jurong East where I transferred to the eastbound train for Tiong Bahru.

As everyone got off the train at the Jurong East station, the woman sitting next to me in the corner seat was still sleeping. (For those of you who don't know, Jurong East is where the N-S train changes direction and heads back north.)

I thought I should wake her but hesitated. I hate waking up other people, especially strangers. She would be so startled to be roused by a strange man (and I look stranger than most). I thought (or hoped) she would wake up on her own.

Other people started boarding the train heading north, making me feel self-conscious. So I just left the woman sleeping on the train heading back the way she came. She's going to be so confused when she wakes up on the train going in the wrong direction.

Anyway, I forgot about her by the time I reached the starting line at PSB Academy, where it was still raining lightly.

It was only then that I found out the vertical part of the race – the 20-storey stair climb – was at the end of the 10km run. I had been training for the stair climb to be at the beginning of the run. I was screwed.

Another surprise was seeing Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah who was there to flag off the race at 7.30am.

The race was mostly along public roads which WEREN'T CLOSED TO TRAFFIC for the event. I didn't pay $42 (instead of $45, thanks to a Passion card discount) to run and watch out for traffic at the same time. I could do that on my own for free. This is why I didn't join the Pioneer Road Run again this year.

The run got interesting only after 7km when we had to use the overhead bridge at Lower Delta Road. That was a first. Another reason it's called the Vertical City Trail run, I guess.

Then came the 20-storey stair climb in the very narrow stairwell of Tiong Bahru Plaza.

As exhausting as the half marathon was a week earlier, I never thought to myself: "I'm going to die."

When I reached the 19th storey at Tiong Bahru Plaza, I thought I WAS GOING TO DIE. My heart felt like it was about to explode. If it had been a 21-storey stair climb, I believe I would be dead now.

I wondered how I'm going to survive the 73-storey Swissôtel Vertical Marathon in November I had just signed up for.

When I reached the 20th storey at Tiong Bahru Plaza, I immediately went to the toilet to pee. That was another first.

Here's a selfie in the toilet:

I then took a lift back down to the ground floor and collected my finisher medal. Not a very exciting way to finish a race.

At least I got a banana.

After eating the banana, I went home and slept until 4pm. Good thing I didn't fall asleep on the train back.

Sunday 8 September 2013

McGecko versus Ris Low movie trailer: Discuss disgust

Welcome to the new normal.

Floods. Haze. Ris Low.

Baby lizard in your Sausage McMuffin?

To be fair, the haze has been an on-and-off affair since the 90s. So it’s actually part of the old normal.

And the lizard tail turned out to be a chicken vein, according to McDonald’s

I believe that finding a chicken part resembling a reptile part in a McDonald’s breakfast menu item is a freak event that occurs only once in 50 years.

But then once is probably once too often for some people.

A few years ago, my wife bit into something hard while eating a piece of bread.

She took it out of her mouth and saw it was a dead beetle (not to be confused with John Lennon or George Harrison, ie a dead Beatle).

At first, I thought it could be a raisin - except my wife wasn’t eating raisin bread. And it was much bigger than a raisin.

I wrote an e-mail to the bread company to complain.

Someone from the company came to our home with a fresh loaf of bread he bought from a nearby convenience store to exchange for my wife’s half-chewed bug-encrusted piece of bread.

It also had some jam on it.

After some time, the company e-mailed back and suggested that the insect could have come from the jam.

I pointed out that the bug was embedded in the bread, so the jam was just an innocent bystander.

Later, we received a letter from the company assuring us of its commitment to quality and invited us to tour its Singapore bakery.

A free tour? I could use the vacation.

I was keen to go, but for some reason, my wife wasn’t interested in seeing how bread was baked. It’s not quite the Eiffel Tower.

It seemed like we weren’t getting any more compensation apart from the one free loaf of bread and the free bakery tour offer. I’m not sure what we were hoping for.

More free bread? But then again, do we really want more bread from the company whose bread we just found a dead insect in?

Cash? The tainted bread cost only two bucks or so.

Compensation for the distress of biting into a dead beetle? Well, at least my wife didn’t swallow it.

If she had, then we might not have even known about it. If a bug in the bread is eaten and no one sees it, does it make a crunchy sound?

I decided to write it off as one of those things that happens only once in 50 years.

We still buy bread from the company and we haven’t found a bug carcass entombed in any of the baked goods since. I figure we’ll die before the 50 years are up.

And despite the alleged McGecko, people were still going to McDonald’s for the Sausage McMuffin.

Perhaps they figured even if it was a lizard, since someone else had already found it, another wallcrawler wouldn’t turn up in their food until 2063.

If the reptile tail-resembling chicken vein wasn’t enough to turn your stomach last week, the trailer for Ris Low’s new movie Justice Devil was also released online.

Yes, she’s back – with a vengeance. And it hasn’t even been close to 50 years.

Judging by the 90-second trailer, the Mandarin movie looks similar to the violent 70s sexpoitation cult classic I Spit On Your Grave, about a woman who gets revenge by tormenting her former tormentors.

Sort of like what Low is doing to us with the trailer.

The former Miss Singapore World even wields an axe. Maybe she’s hunting for leopards. They make nice prints. Unfortunately, she doesn’t wear a “bigini” in the trailer.

I feel like I should get partial credit (or blame) for Low being in the movie, which will be released this month, according to the trailer.

Back in 2009, I wrote in The New Paper: “And somewhere out there, someone must be producing a women’s prison movie with a role for her in it. One can only hope.”

Okay, so Justice Devil is not a women’s prison movie per se, but Justice Devil is in the same exploitation genre as a women’s prison movie. That’s close enough. Boomz for me.

But what I did fail to foresee is that the most horrifying thing about the trailer is that Low appears to have regained the kilos she lost in 2010 when she actually looked kind of hot – to me, at least.

Back then, she told TNP that people calling her fat made her angry.

If her weight in the trailer is the new normal, then I strongly recommend some anger management classes.

She should also watch what she eats – and not just for dead bugs in her bread.

Perhaps she has been swallowing too many Sausage McMuffins?

Hmmm, if only there’s some way McDonald’s can make her lose her appetite...

- Published in The New Paper, 8 September 2013

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Half marathon, full experience – but I walked a quarter of the way

I first joined the Safra Sheares Bridge Run in the early 90s.

More than 20 years later on Sunday, I took part in the 21km Safra Singapore Bay Run and Army Half Marathon.

It was fun at first, running past Shenton Way and Marina Bay Sands, but after 7km, I started to struggle.

That was also where runners were delayed by a bottleneck near the Marina Barrage. I took the opportunity to rest longer than I should.

I had been working six nights straight and had less than a hour's sleep before the run, which was flagged off at 5:15am.

After 15km, I was jogging so slowly I might as well walk, which was what I did for most of the rest of the way. I was very disappointed with myself.

I was so exhausted I could feel the weight of my sweat-soaked tank top on my shoulders. My right knee buckled at one point. I really felt all of my 47 years.

I also made the mistake of drinking (or "hydrating") during the run which I've never done before. That made it difficult to pick up speed as I was filled with fluids.

Still, I managed to force myself to jog across the finish line at 3 hours 3 minutes. I was hoping to make it under 3 hours. I must try to do better next year.

Below are some of the less blurry pictures I took with my shaky iPhone along the way. They seem almost psychedelic in retrospect.

One positive side effect is that next Sunday's 10km Vertical City Trail run (which includes a 20-storey stair climb) now seems like nothing in comparison.

UPDATE: Don’t worry about the 10km run – the stairs will kill you

Sunday 1 September 2013

Don’t lose your IC if you’re a long-haired male atheist

My world changed suddenly eight days ago at the Singapore Expo.

I was there to collect the race pack for this morning’s Safra Singapore Bay Run and Army Half Marathon, having registered online for the 21km run two months earlier.

As I joined the queue in Singapore Expo Hall 3B that Saturday afternoon, I pulled my wallet out of my jeans back pocket to take out my identity card to prove I was who I was so that I could get my stuff.

Except... where was my IC?

I searched my wallet again.

Okay, I had my 10 million credit cards, my Passion card, my Kopitiam card, my Watsons card, my Spotlight card and the free Safra membership card I received for the 45th anniversary of national service - but no identity card.

I felt like I had been transported to an alternate universe where ICs randomly disappear from people’s wallets.

How was I going to get my stuff now? Do I leave the queue? But I had travelled all the way from my home in Choa Chu Kang to the Expo.

I decided I would beg for my race pack.

When it was my turn, I told the counter girl I didn’t have my IC with me. She asked if I had any other form of identification.

Since it was a Safra event, I showed her my Safra card. She accepted it without me having to beg. I got my run pack within minutes. Thank you, 45th anniversary of NS!

But I still had to find my missing IC.

Without it, I can’t prove that I’m not a foreigner and my fellow Singaporeans could protest against me ar Hong Lim Park by mistake. Oh, wait, I still have my passport. Except it’s expired.

And what if someone used my IC to borrow money from a loan shark? Well, my wife has been complaining that our door needs a new coat of paint.

Anyway, instead of looking for pictures, animated gifs and videos of City Harvest Church chiobu Serina Wee on the Internet like every other Singaporean man, straight or otherwise, did last week, I was looking for my IC.

Search parties were organised. Cabinets were ransacked. Pockets were turned out.

I went to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) website and learnt that the cost of replacing a lost IC was $100. So I had another one hundred reasons to find it.

But the search proved futile, although it turned up my long lost iPod Touch, a sticker for the McDonald’s Monopoly game and a special collector’s ez-link card with a picture of Elijah Wood as Frodo from The Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy.

I eventually threw in the towel after a shower and headed for the ICA building on Thursday to get a new IC.

It’s a common misconsception that you have to make a police report when you lose your IC. Actually, you only have to do so if you’re a victim of a crime.

I just needed to fill up a declaration form, which asked for the reason I lost my IC.

How was I supposed to answer? “Carelessness”? “A rupture in the space-time continuum”?

I wrote: “I opened my wallet and my IC wasn’t there.”

Next, I went to the fourth floor to get my IC photo taken for $5.

The woman looked at me and said, “Alamak. Women can have long hair. Men cannot.”

I was given a pink rubber band to tie my hair back. Is rubber band supposed to match the colour of my IC?I refused to wear the pink rubber band.

Are we still living in the 1970s? Males with long hair are not allowed to have their IC photo taken?

The woman grudgingly took my photo sans pink rubber band but warned that if the photo was rejected, she wasn’t going to give me a refund.

I paid the five bucks, collected my IC photo, returned the pink rubber band and said, “Thank you.”

Then came the moment of truth. I handed the photo and declaration form to the ICA officer to apply for my replacement IC.

She said nothing about the photo (not even “wah, so handsome”) but asked me to write “I dropped my IC” on the form.

I paid the 100 bucks with Nets and was asked to check that my information was correct.

Next to religion was “free thinker”. I asked if I could change it to “none”, which would be more accurate.

She said I could choose either “free thinker” or “others”, but “none” was not allowed. I couldn’t help feeling atheists were being discriminated against.

I stayed with “free thinker” because “others” could suggest I perform human sacrifices at Stonehenge and that was something I would rather keep a secret.

After everything was settled, I was given a collection slip to collect my replacement IC a month later. The ICA officer said that in the meantime, the collection slip could be used as my temporary IC.

Really? That little piece of paper?

So yesterday afternoon, I went to Novena Square to collect my race pack for next Sunday's Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Salomon Vertical City Trail run.

The counter girl asked for my IC. I said I lost it and showed her the ICA collection slip.

“Oh,” she said, “you really lost it.”

She thought I was kidding? She then asked for my IC number and gave me my race pack. Race pack collection counter girls are all so nice.

So the collection slip worked, though not the way I expected.

I just hope I don’t wake up one day to find red paint splashed on my front door. My wife prefers off-white.

- Published in The New Paper, 1 September 2013