Monday 28 October 2013

Walking on the other side now

Rest in peace, Lou Reed (2 March 1942 – 27 October 27 2013).

Do they have scooters in rock & roll heaven?

Sunday 27 October 2013

IPPT: 2.4 to become 3.2? I couldn’t even run 1.5km

Like getting recalled, I’m going back to the army again for this week’s column.

Last week, I cited an analogy I read online which compared full-time national service to being “betrothed to a fat and ugly woman, and you must have sex with her every Monday to Friday for two whole years”.

A reader e-mailed me to complain that in my article, “thought has not been given for the ‘fat and ugly’ females in our society”.

He wrote: “We have been cruel towards parents of such girls by such description. I don’t wish to derive fun out of the innocents, despite your wonderful writing skills.”

Uh... I’m not sure how I should respond to this.

Should I apologise to the “fat and ugly females”? Or to the parents of such females?

Or should I thank the reader for highlighting my “wonderful writing skills”? Ahem. I hope he wasn’t being sarcastic there.

In my defence, the analogy wasn’t mine. It was an online comment by someone else which I thought captured the very male resentment against NS.

It also made me laugh.

In the week following the article, there was a slew of NS-related news.

Swimmer Joseph Schooling being granted a deferment. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen saying the Government is looking into giving NSmen a chance to choose their vocation.

But the biggest news, at least to me, involved a number.


For a while last week, that seemed to be the new figure that would be dreaded by the thousands of operationally-ready NSmen in Singapore.

On Wednesday, The Straits Times reported that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was “looking to change” the dreaded Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

One supposed change was that instead of the dreaded 2.4km run, it would soon be the dreaded 3.2km run.

This was like a whole new world. For generations of servicemen, the 2.4km run has been as much a part of NS as “stand by hair” and booking in by 2359.

For those who dreaded the annual IPPT before, they now had 0.8 more reasons to dread it. Talk about a Halloween fright.

But within hours, SAF released a statement that “there has not been any decision to change our IPPT system”.

So it’s back to dreading the 2.4km.

But there was a time when a distance less than that could bring me to my knees.

In my first week of national service on Pulau Tekong, my platoon was made to run a short distance to gauge our fitness level.

During the run, I felt a strange mix of exhaustion, pain and nausea I had never felt before.

I stopped and vomited.

Now I also felt embarrassed. It was the first time I had ever puked in public.

The instructor wasn’t very sympathetic. I suspect he thought I was faking it.

He said: “Come on lah, it’s only 1.5km. Stop acting like you’re going to die.”

But I wasn’t acting.

At the age of 20, trying to run 1.5km for the first time in the army was enough to almost kill me.

So it was a little ironic and masochistic that last month, I joined the 21km Army Half Marathon – voluntarily.

I even paid a $12 registration fee. So I spent money to do something that three decades earlier, I would have paid many times over to get out of.

If only my 20-year-old self could see me now.

He would be wondering why my face looks so wrinkly and lopsided.

I would then have to explain that I’m 27 years older and that he was accustomed to seeing a reflection of himself in the mirror which is a reverse image and that’s why my face looks lopsided to him.

He would also probably wonder why I’m not richer before I shove him back into the time machine and send him back to 1986 to prevent the break-up of Wham!

When you’re young, you think you’re going to live forever.

But as you grow older, you find out you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high BMI, high everything except income, and you're suddenly joining half marathons in your 40s to stay alive.

Even though I no longer have to take the IPPT since I completed my NS seven years ago, I still time how fast I can run 2.4km out of habit when I go jogging.

Yes! I can still pass.

Not sure about 3.2 though.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 October 2013

Sunday 20 October 2013

5 things I wish I knew before doing national service


Thanks to an Institute Of Policy Studies (IPS) survey and a blogger comparing national service to slavery, NS is a hot topic again.

When I was a boy, I dreaded NS after hearing the horror stories from my older cousins in the army.

But the alternative was to be a girl. Then I would be dreading the pain of childbirth. Both seem equally as bad, which was why I held off on the sex change.

So I’m a little taken aback by recent suggestions that women should also serve NS. Isn’t giving birth hard enough?

The IPS survey found that although more than 80 per cent of both men and women said yes to voluntary NS for women, only about one in 10 women would actually volunteer for a full two-year NS stint.

Unfortunately, the survey didn’t find out how many men would volunteer to give birth.

Some have argued that giving birth is already a form of NS for Singaporean women.

In which case, if NS is a form of slavery as the blogger had contended, then having a child is also a form of slavery. I doubt any parent would disagree with that.

Others have argued that giving birth is not the same as NS since it’s not compulsory for women to give birth whereas it’s compulsory for Singaporean men to serve NS.

Then why not make it compulsory for Singapore women to give birth as a form of NS to boost our low fertility rate? Two birds, one stone.

Until such legislation is passed, while giving birth and serving NS may be similar in that they both involve hardship, the difference is the lack of choice in the latter.

One crudely entertaining though not quite accurate analogy I read online is that full-time NS is like being “betrothed to a fat and ugly woman, and you must have sex with her every Monday to Friday for two whole years”.

The analogy left out weekend duties.

I feel sorry for the fat and ugly woman. In an alternate universe, having sex with you is her national service.

And just as I had sex with this woman more than two decades ago, my teenage son will do the same in a few years.

As a father, I want to give him some advice about NS, especially the first three months of basic military training (BMT), which is the toughest part, even though I realise a lot must have changed since the last time I was in uniform.

Despite all those horror stories my cousins had told me about NS, I still wasn’t prepared for the actual thing which was even worse than they had led me to believe.

So here are five things I wish I knew before going to Pulau Tekong for my BMT more than 25 years ago:

1 Being a recruit is nothing like being a slave.
A slave is at least a human being. A recruit is just another shaved head with dog tags. An actual dog has more rights. I remember envying the stray dogs I saw wandering around Tekong. Oh, to be as free as a dog.

2 Be prepared for the lack of sleep.
I wasn’t. Eight hours? In your dreams, if you manage to have any. When I returned home for my first weekend break, I was knocked out for a day and half. By the time I woke up, it was time to go back to camp. I guess that’s why they call it army daze.

3 Learn Malay.
Otherwise, you literally won’t know your left from your right. And that’s kind of an important thing to know in the army. But understanding the Malay commands is one thing. Eventually, you should also learn how to give them.

I found one word particularly useful: “semula”. I think it means “Uh... let me say that again.”

4 Learn Hokkien.
The more vulgar the word, the better. And then it’s about how creatively you can combine the words. That’s how you win friends and influence people.

5 Muslim food is better.
Granted, this is a personal preference. SAF cookhouses are divided into Muslim and non-Muslim food. If allowed the option, I would go for the Muslim food because it’s likely to be less bland and I like it spicey.

Another thing I wished someone had told me about was this strange concept called “night snack”, which sort of blew my mind when I learnt about it on the first night of my national service.

You mean, there’s another meal after breakfast, lunch and dinner? Is this heaven?

Sure, night snack was usually just bee hoon or tau suan, but for that brief moment, Tekong didn’t seem like such a horrible place after all.

And being a boy wasn’t so bad.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 October 2013

Dear SM Ong,

I am a Singaporean male touching 50, have been a vivid reader of your column, whenever i got hold of new papers on sundays. Many times, i may not be able to catch the humour that was intended, but at times when i did, i was impressed.

However in today's article, i felt that thoughts has not been given for the "fat & ugly" females in our society, likewise we have been cruel towards parents of such girls by such description. I don't wish to derive fun out of the innocents, despite your wonderful writing skills.

Through no intent, you could have sent more hurt than laughter towards such readers at large, reading our national paper, and i don't believe this meet the last of your objective as a humour writer. Pity!

Let's be graceful.

Regards, ck

EARLIER: I slept in 'haunted' Tekong bunk with third door and survived

Friday 18 October 2013

Goodbye, Cynthia Chew Choon Hoon

I was kind of shocked to read in the papers today that an old MediaCorp colleague has died.

The weird thing is I don't usually read the obituaries, so if I didn't happen to flip the page, I wouldn't have found out.

I didn't even know Cynthia was in Australia. I also don't know if she had left MediaCorp. I haven't seen her since I quit MediaCorp five years ago. (UPDATE: I'm told she died of lung cancer even though she didn't smoke.)

I spent my last couple of years at MediaCorp sitting opposite her cubicle. I used to enjoy using obscenities as often and as loudly as possible just to annoy her.

When I first knew her in the late 90s, I think she was directing Channel 5 dramas like Growing Up, but she later came to specialise in so-called "docu-dramas", like Exposed and Unnatural, which consist mostly of re-enactments of true stories.

Despite her conservative Christian nature, she didn't shy away from sensationalism. Much of her stuff is rated PG. Hey, anything for ratings.

She struck me as one of those low-key journeyman types at MediaCorp who stuck with what they knew and just kept churning them out. She did it long enough to be eventually promoted to vice-president.

If you watch Channel 5, I'm sure you've seen something Cynthia has produced.

I tried googling her, but could only find her name in some write-up about Crimewatch. I'm amazed some people can still leave such a minimal digital footprint in this day and age.

At least you can still watch her series Exposed, Unnatural, Cradle Of Life and Journey With Me online at xinmsn. (UPDATE: Maybe not anymore.)

Tribute to Cynthia Chew Facebook page

UPDATE: Ironically, Cynthia seems to have left a larger digital footprint in her death than when she was alive. (Partly thanks to this blog post.)

This is what her sister Patricia wrote on Facebook:
Cynthia had Adenocarcinoma of the lung that metastasized (spread) to her entire brain membrane (Carcinomatous Meningitis).

Up to her last trip to Brisbane in mid August, she was still working her usual tight schedule, as her last filming photos below testify.

In Brisbane, everything came undone though she was still talking about returning to Singapore (work was her greatest passion).

Her last week was particularly hard for all of us. During her last week, our family flew in from Hobart, Rockhampton and Singapore to be with her.

On that last Friday, us siblings, four of us, spent the night with her. We told her we were celebrating Christmas early.

In one of the rare lucid moments when she managed to find the word, a big one at that, she giggled as we recounted our childhood days, and asked, 'Are you all intoxicated?'

Below is a video of the 2 November 2013 memorial service at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Singapore. I see a few familiar faces, including Channel 5 censor David Christie and convicted maid abuser Zahara Lateef.

Below is the end of the November 24 2013 Crimewatch episode dedicated to Cynthia.

Sunday 13 October 2013

I know who could’ve started the SingTel fire

I met Arnold Gay once a long time ago.

I was still working at MediaCorp and he was the hunky Channel NewsAsia news reader.

It was Lisa Ang who introduced me to Gay, though I can’t remember who introduced me to Lisa Ang.

Ang was a Channel NewsAsia host at the time but had previously hosted the Channel 5 infotainment series Hey Singapore and played VR Man’s tomboy girlfriend.

Anyway, back to Gay.

What struck me about him was that he seemed like a remarkably well-adjusted guy for someone whose surname is the equivalent to being born with a “Kick me” sign permanently pasted on his back.

So he’s the last person I expect to be in the centre of a controversy.

Before this month, possibly the most controversial thing he did was burn his bridges at MediaCorp by jumping ship to join the newly formed (and now defunct) SPH MediaWorks in 2000 (which I did too).

Then two Saturdays ago, he burned something else.

On Oct 5, Gay, now a Kiss92 radio DJ, reenacted his own mini Singaporean version of Fahrenheit 451 by gathering his 12-year-old son, his son’s friends and his friends’ children to throw their schoolwork into a bonfire to celebrate the end of the reviled Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLE).

I’ve never read the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 about book-burning or seen the movie.

But I have seen the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore and that’s close enough.

After Kiss92 posted a picture of Gay’s flaming stunt on its Facebook page, Gay got flamed himself for such inflammatory behaviour.

One commenter wrote: “Hey Arnold, are you really that dumb to inculcate your kid and his dumber friends into doing something that silly? Come on, PSLE is just a freaking small stepping stone of a kid’s life! Gonna burned down the whole of National Library when your kid grad from his PhD?”

Uh… if Gay manages to raise a kid who can get a PhD, then I think it’s fair to say Gay is not “really that dumb”.

And the National Library was already destroyed to make way for a road. The new one is the “National Library” only in name, not in my heart.

Although I'm against polluting our continually haze-threatened skies with more ash, I have come to accept that burning stuff in public is a Singaporean Chinese way of life.

Since we are already burning fake money, paper iPads and paper houses for the dead, we might as well burn some assessment books to help the dead score in their PSLE so that they can get into the secondary school of their choice in hell.

Heaven forbid they end up in a neighbourhood hell school. That would be hell indeed.

I just hope this post-PSLE burning thing won't become an annual islandwide ritual. My family suffer enough breathing problems during the Hungry Ghost month.

Still, as a parent, I empathise with Gay for wanting to provide a catharsis for his son and maybe himself after the stress of the PSLE.

As one Facebook user commented: “It’s also a great opportunity for parents to bond with the kids.”

Being a father of two teenagers, I am constantly on the lookout for opportunities to bond with my kids. When they come home from school, the first thing they do is interact with their mobile devices rather than another member of the family.

So a blessing in disguise of sorts was the disruption in Internet services caused by a fire at a SingTel facility in Bukit Panjang last Wednesday.

Deprived of a broadband connection for two days at our Choa Chu Kang home, instead of staring at the computer monitors or our smartphones, my kids, my wife and I were forced to stare at each other.

That was as close as we got to bonding in my family. We didn’t have anything to burn. My son's O-level exams only start later this month.

My daughter, 14, said: “This is what happens when we don’t have Wi-Fi. We spend more time together.”

I’m not sure whether she meant that as a good thing or a bad thing.

I suspect mine was not the only family forced to bond because of the Internet disruption.

Wait a minute. I just realised something.

A mysterious fire caused last week’s Internet disruption which might have led to a sudden surge in family bonding in Singapore.

Hmmm… who do we know has recently started a fire to bond with a family member?

I wonder, were any charred remains of past years’ PSLE papers found at the burnt SingTel facility?

I think it’s about time Gay come out – with the truth.

I bet Lisa Ang can make him talk.

- Published in The New Paper, 13 October 2013

UPDATE: Hacked? I'd be more worried about a blowtorch

Sunday 6 October 2013

No cable TV? How about a Samurai burger? Fine

As those not-so-novel-anymore novelty T-shirts for tourists say, Singapore is a “fine” city.

Last week, it was reported that SMRT will be fined $860,000 by the Land Transport Authority for four separate incidents since last year. SBS Transit will also be fined $250,000 for a service disruption on the North-East Line in June.

Before you start collecting donations for them, let me point out that SMRT reported a net profit of $119.9 million for the financial year of 2012 while SBS Transit earned $18.6 million.

But it’s not only the public transport companies cramming us into their sardine trains and buses that are getting fined.

Last week, M1 was fined $1.5 million by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) for a three-day service disruption in January. It was reportedly the most a telco has been fined.

Before you start organising a flag day for M1, let me point out that the company made a profit of $146.5 million last year, which is more than what SMRT and SBS Transit made combined.

And then there’s SingTel.

This year alone, Singapore’s largest telco was fined $50,000 in August for a two-and-a-half hour fixed-line outage that occurred last November, and $180,000 in February for a mio TV glitch that disrupted the live telecasts of the English Premier League (EPL) matches the previous May.

(UPDATE: SingTel fire: Telco may face fines.)

Before you start calling celebrities to appear in a charity show for SingTel, the company earned $1.01 billion in just three months from April to June, which is even more than what our ministers make.

Who weeps for the multi-million-or-billion-dollar corporations?

The thing is, the fines just go to the Government. What about the consumers who were affected by the services disruptions that the companies were fined for?

Shouldn’t we get a piece of the action since we were the ones who were actually inconvenienced?

For example, IDA found that some 250,000 M1 users were affected by the January disruption. What if that record $1.5 million fine was distributed among those 250,000 people?

Let’s see, $1.5 million divided by 250,000… that means each one of us would get... only $6?!

That’s just enough to buy a McDonald’s Samurai Burger with single beef patty, which is $5.65 on the delivery menu. The double patty is $7.45. You can forget about adding the Seaweed Shaker Fries and the medium jasmine green tea.

(BTW, I don't recommend the new chicken Samurai burger. Stick with the beef.)

Record fine or not, $1.5 million is clearly inadequate. The fine should be at least enough for each of the affected 250,000 M1 users to get a Samurai meal.

Will StarHub be fined too?

Two Wednesdays ago, the telco apologised to customers who could not log on to the Internet that morning. Three days later, StarHub’s cable TV service was disrupted for four and a half hours.

To make up for the cable TV outage, StarHub announced last week that as “a gesture of goodwill”, it’s offering a free preview of more than 170 channels for a week starting this weekend.

Which is all well and good – except I cancelled my StarHub TV subscription last Tuesday.

And it wasn’t because of the service disruption. No one in my household even noticed the service disruption because we hardly watch TV anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. We still watch plenty of TV programmes – but on the computer via the Internet. No, I don’t download. I stream. Let’s say I want to watch the Channel 5 show Mata Mata (which I don’t), I’d just go to xinmsn.

I had been wanting to cancel my cable TV subscription for some time but was still on contract.

My daughter also protested, which is a little surprising. Being the youngest in the family, she was the last person I expected to hang on to the old medium. For some reason, she still occasionally enjoyed watching Glee on our dusty non-HD Sony Trinitron.

Then on Monday, I received a call from someone representing StarHub who offered to give me a $10 discount off my $30 monthly cable TV subscription fee.

I said I thought I was already getting the discount. The woman explained that my contract had just ended, which was why she was offering me a discount for another 12-month commitment.

That was when I realised I could finally cancel my subscription without incurring early termination charges. (Thank you, StarHub, for alerting me.)

I just had to do it without telling my 14-year-old daughter. Yes, I like to live dangerously.

So the next day, while my daughter was at school, I disconnected the cable TV set-top box and returned it to the StarHub customer service centre at Causeway Point.

And thus my decades-long relationship with cable TV was officially over.

When I got home, my daughter demanded to know what happened to the cable box.

Acting blur, I said, “What cable box?”

She angrily pointed to the empty space above the TV.

I said I was saving us $20 or $30 a month and offered to buy her a Samurai Burger.

But my daughter still hasn’t forgiven me. “It’s like losing a loved one,” she said.

I hope she’ll say the same thing about me when I die.

I would’ve bought her a Samurai meal, but IDA didn’t fine M1 enough.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 October 2013

Thursday 3 October 2013

Crazy Hair is back (with crazy eye)

Shot at a retro cafe called Sinpopo at Joo Chiat Road last week for The New Paper revamp.

Behind the scenes: