Friday 29 November 2013

What I did for Movember

On November 1, I looked like this.

Because of No Shave November, today I look like this.

I didn't say November 1, what year.

Last chance to donate here.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

What a day... I mean Baey... I mean day

Sunday was a big day for me.

It was my first time running the Swissotel Vertical Marathon and I was also reporting on the event for The New Paper.

It was the first time I was reporting since 2002 when I edited and wrote for the North Eest CDC magazine Spring as a freelancer after I was retrenched from SPH MediaWorks.

Reporting is different from writing the Sunday column, which is mostly just sitting at the computer and googling a lot.

Reporting means I have to talk to PR people, make arrangements with the photographer and interview newsmakers, none of which are my favourite things to do, mainly because they all involve human interaction.

But it was reinvigorating to do it again, even though I was reminded how much I hated it.

So as if my day wasn't exciting enough, who should I see that morning at the Swissotel The Stamford, but...


Regular readers should remember I wrote a column about the MP for Tampines and his famous selfies a few months ago. He even e-mailed me a very brief thank-you note for the article.

But what made it even more surreal was that on Sunday, The New Paper had just published my column where I called Baey Yam Keng the Sexiest Man Alive.

And there he was, standing right in front of me!

I thought I was going to faint.

Should I say hi?

Would he know who I was?

I mean, I just called him the Sexiest Man Alive in my column. Did he see it?

Where I mentioned that I wouldn't mind waking up with him?

Because of all these unknowns, I decided to keep Mr Baey at bay even though I wanted so badly to ask him to take a selfie with me. It would've been so awesome and so awkward.

So I did the next best thing. I took a selfie with Mr Baey in the background and posted it on Instagram.

So basically, I just stalked the man and furtively took pictures of him with my iPhone.

Hey, he's even sexy from the back!

The twist is that later that day, Mr Baey posted my Sexiest Man Alive column on his Instagram! With the comment "Utterly flattered" and even a link to this blog.

Which makes me regret not saying hi to him that morning.

Sigh. Maybe someday...

... I can stalk him again.

EARLIER: A Singaporean for Sexiest Man Alive?

UPDATE: I finally meet him

Monday 25 November 2013

Making a mountain out of a (Swissotel Vertical) Marathon

I’ll never climb Mount Everest.

I have come to accept that.

So I did the next best thing – I joined the Swissotel Vertical Marathon at Swissotel The Stamford along with 2,163 others yesterday.

I’m not saying that completing the Swissotel Vertical Marathon, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is anything like scaling the world’s highest peak, but it’s probably the closest a 47-year-old slacker like me is going to get.

For one thing, Mount Everest is 8,848m high while Swissotel The Stamford is only 226m tall. On the other hand, Mount Everest doesn’t have a Ya Kun Kaya Toast in the basement (I assume).

So if you really want to simulate climbing Mount Everest, you would need to climb Swissotel The Stamford’s 73 storeys 39.15 times and go without kaya toast.

I’m sure the three members of Team Singapura Everest 2015 who took part in the vertical marathon were aware of this.

Unlike me, two of them — Mr Muhd Hilwan, 27, and Ms Nur Yusrina Yaakob, 26 – are actually planning to climb Mount Everest in 2015 to celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday.

But I saw them climb the 73 storeys at Swissotel The Stamford only once. I don’t know if they had any kaya toast.

They told me that as part of their Everest training, they climb the stairs of a 40-storey HDB block in Toa Payoh a few times a week.

Similarly, I had trained for the vertical marathon by climbing the stairs of my 16-storey HDB block in Choa Chu Kang a few times a week.

Because of recent news reports, I was wary of chancing upon amorous couples at the staircase landings... uh, let’s say, enjoying a private moment.

So I was careful to make as much noise as I could with loud breathing and heavy footsteps to warn any mid-coitus lovers that I was approaching.

Once, I heard some scrambling on a floor above me, but when I reached there, I didn’t see anyone, which was a relief.

Fortunately, nothing like that happened to me in the Swissotel The Stamford stairway yesterday.

Although it was my first Swissotel Vertical Marathon, it was not my first vertical marathon. In June, I had survived the 40-storey National Vertical Marathon at Asia Square (near Lau Pa Sat), where I learnt a few things.

One is, just because other runners are sprinting up the stairs at the start doesn’t mean you have to keep up with them. You’re going to conk out before you reach the 10th storey.

You have to climb at your own pace, but the “peer pressure” can be hard to resist.

My biggest dilemma was whether I should climb two steps at a time or one. If I climbed two steps at a time from the start, I would tire quickly. But if I climbed one step at a time, I could still be in the Swissotel The Stamford stairway as you’re reading this.

Then yesterday, a miracle happened.

While waiting in the holding area outside the hotel before the race, I noticed a guy with one leg and crutches.

He was wearing the same colour race bib as I was, which meant he and I were running in the same category.

I decided I was going to run next to him. No peer pressure there.

For the first few floors, I was right behind him.

Since he was on crutches, he could climb only one step at a time. So I, too, climbed one step at a time. It was a breeze.

I eventually overtook the one-legged guy, occasionally climbing two steps at a time like the hero that I am, and finished the vertical marathon way, way, way ahead of him.

I did it!

I beat the man with one leg!

I later found out his name is Mr Ezzy Wang Peng Han. The 47-year-old lost his right limb after his pelvis was attacked by a rare form of bone cancer in 1996.

But he won’t be defeated.

Just like he wouldn’t be defeated by the likes of me.

At the finish line on the rooftop of Singapore’s tallest hotel, I asked Mr Wang how he kept going, knowing he could never catch up with me.

Pointing to the breathtaking view, he said: “Reaching the pinnacle was my motivation.”

Yeah, but I reached the pinnacle before he did.

That felt almost as good as if I had climbed Everest.

To celebrate, I’m going to order some kaya toast.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 November 2013


It was a day of heroes – masked and otherwise.

The big crowd favourites at yesterday’s Swissotel Vertical Marathon were the “Avengers”, who won the Most Creatively Dressed prize — all 10 of them.

Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, Iron Man, Iron Patriot, Spider-Man, a female Captain America, the Flash and Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

You may argue that the Flash is not only not an Avenger, he’s not even from the Marvel universe, and Elastigirl is from a whole different genre altogether, but you’re going to want to take pictures with them anyway.

I felt sorry for the person dressed as Pikachu who didn’t win.

Also climbing the stairs in a “costume” of sorts were Mr Muhd Hilwan and Ms Nur Yusrina Yaakob of Team Singapura Everest 2015, who donned some of their training gear for the marathon.

The biggest challenge for them was dealing with the lack of ventilation in the stairway with their breathing masks on.

They should get advice from Bane. Too bad he didn’t show up with the Avengers yesterday.

But Singapore’s Blade Runner Md Shariff Abdullah did show up.

Mr Shariff, 45, was born without a left foot below the knee. In 2008, part of the same leg was amputated.

He had founded Team Singapura Everest 2015 in 2010 to fulfill his dream of conquering Mount Everest, but later left the team. He now hopes to run the Everest Marathon instead.

For Mr Shariff, the hero of the day was his daughter Nur ‘Atiqah, 20, who ran the vertical marathon with him and unexpectedly ran ahead of him.

“Now I have to buy her the shoes I promised her if she could beat me,” he said. “She’s awesome.”

Still, even Mr Shariff couldn’t help but take pictures with the Avengers at the finish line.

“Next time, I’ll wear a costume too,” he joked, “like Pirates Of The Caribbean. I’ll get a wooden leg.”

- Published in The New Paper, 25 November 2013

UPDATE: Why disqualified Standard Chartered Marathon ‘winner’ is my hero

Sunday 24 November 2013

A Singaporean for Sexiest Man Alive?

“I’m at a payphone, trying call home, all of my change I spent on you.”

For more than a year now, I’ve been roused awake every morning by Adam Levine's high whiney voice as he sings the opening line to his band Maroon 5’s hit Payphone.

My wife uses the song as her ringtone and the morning alarm on her phone.

It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been Moves Like Jagger.

When I read last week that the US celebrity gossip magazine People selected Levine as the Sexiest Man Alive, my first reaction was – why?

Is George Clooney dead? Did I hallucinate that he’s still alive like Sandra Bullock did in the movie Gravity?

(Uh... if you haven’t seen the movie, belated spoiler alert. Sorry.)

I’m so out of touch I thought Clooney was last year’s Sexiest Man Alive. In reality, he hasn’t been Sexiest Man Alive since 2006.

Last year’s Sexiest Man Alive was Channing Tatum, who has a great body, but that face – cringe.

Still, his “epic split” on YouTube almost – almost! – rivaled Jean Claude Van Damme’s in the now famous Volvo truck commercial.

I would nominate Van Damme for the Sexiest Man Alive except I'm not 100 per cent sure he’s actually alive.

My New Paper colleague Juliana June Rasul lamented that former Young Hercules star Ryan Gosling has been passed over once again.

In accepting the SMA “award” on US talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, Levine even thanked Gosling for “turning this down constantly”.

But then Gosling is just another white American actor. Why not someone in Singapore?

Like, say, Bobby Tonelli.

How sexy is he? Sexy enough to have dated cute MediaCorp actress Joanne Peh for about four years.

But isn't he just another white American actor too?

How about Qi Yuwu for Sexiest Man Alive then?

How sexy is he? Sexy enough to date Joanne Peh after she broke up with Bobby Tonelli.

But then after her split with Tonelli, Peh said that she did not want to date someone “too good-looking” – and she picked Qi.

So maybe Qi isn’t so sexy after all.

Speaking of unexpected couplings, how about former national footballer Quah Kim Song, who’s dating Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim?

He may not be the sexiest, but he deserves some sort of award just for being 61 and hooking up with a woman 13 years younger. Instead of Sexiest Man Alive, he can be Man Alive.

How about Ilo Ilo director Anthony Chen? He has already won every award in the known universe. He might as well be Sexiest Man Alive too.

Or how about the men in the sex-for-fill-in-the-blank trials earlier this year?

We have former Central Narcotics Bureau chief Ng Boon Gay, former Singapore Civil Defence Force chief Peter Lim and former National University of Singapore law professor Tey Tsun Hang.

Sure, they’re not lookers in the sense that Joanne Peh could’ve dated them after Bobby Tonelli, but the trials revealed that these three are pretty virile guys.

So who would you rather?

Gun to my head, I’d pick Ng. (Please don’t point a gun to my head.)

He looks lean and fit - plus the star witness of his trial was Ms Cecilia Sue, who is way hotter than Ms Pang Chor Mui and Ms Darinne Ko. That makes him hotter too.

Ng also gets bonus points for being the only one of the three men who was acquitted. So he's more likely to be available for a cover shoot.

But who am I kidding?

Tonelli, Qi, Quah, Chen, Ng, Lim, Tey – I’m just using them to fill space until I can get to the one Singaporean who can truly be called Sexiest Man Alive.

I am, of course, talking about Mr Baey Yam Keng.

Being Singapore’s sultan of selfies, Mr Baey can shoot his own cover picture.

I believe Oxford Dictionaries last week declared “selfie” the word of the year because of the ridiculously photogenic Member of Parliament for Tampines.

But he’s not all “me, me, me”.

He’s also selfless, recently giving a pro tip to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Instagram: “PM, hold your camera higher next time, it will look even better.”

I hope PM Lee follows Mr Baey’s advice as I don’t want to see any double chins in the selfies of our head of Government.

Movember? Mr Baey grows his ’stache all year long. Well, except for when he has to perform in a Teochew opera.

Earlier this month, he shaved off his facial hair for a role in an opera at the Wan Qing Culturefest. You know how politicians like to wayang? This is real wayang.

I wish I can get a recording of the opera. Anything to replace the ringtone on my wife’s phone.

One year of waking up with Adam Levine is enough. Even if he is Sexiest Man Alive.

I wouldn’t mind waking up with Mr Baey though. And I don’t just mean the ringtone.

- Published in The New Paper, 24 November 2013

UPDATE: What a day... I mean Baey... I mean day

Friday 22 November 2013

Backtracking 'Every school is a good school': What's the origin?

Jurong West Secondary School vice-principal Pushparani Nadarajah has been hailed online as a "hero" for saying in public:
How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it).
I'm not sure if it's heroic, but it's certainly brave in a career suicide kind of way, although I don't think she expected her remark to go viral.

I want to point out that her remark has gone viral only because it was reported by The Straits Times, which is often criticised for being a Government mouthpiece.

And The Straits Times reported it only because the remark was made at the AsiaEducationExpo, which is organised by Sphere Exhibits, which is owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which also owns The Straits Times.

So really, SPH is the true hero here.

Anyway, the viral remark got me curious: What is the origin of this "Every school is a good school" line?

So I did some googling.

In 2010, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this in his National Day Message:
Our education system caters to all students, and not just the most outstanding ones. Our schools go beyond book learning to teach students how to solve problems, and imbue them with sound moral values.

We create multiple pathways for students of different abilities and interests to progress. We help every neighbourhood school to be a good school, with its own strengths and specialities. We identify and develop each student’s talents, and give him every opportunity to excel.
It's not quite clear here whether he was saying every neighbourhood school was already a good school. It sounds to me more like a goal and a work in progress.

Then on 5 April 2011, he said this in a speech:
... we have a lot of resources, we can do a lot more for ourselves. We have got our education system sorted out. We can make every school a good school.
Here, he made it clearer that the goal of "every school a good school" had not been achieved yet, but he believed it can be.

On 21 May 2011, Mr Heng Swee Keat became education minister, taking over from Mr Ng Eng Hen.

On 22 September 2011, at the pivotal Ministry of Education (MOE) Work Plan Seminar, Mr Heng said:
As a system, we should not have “neighbourhood schools” almost as an apology. Instead, we must strive to ensure that all schools – in every neighbourhood – are good schools.
Making his mission statement, Mr Heng was more or less just reiterating what the PM had said earlier. Nothing controversial about that, right?

A year later, PM Lee said at the 2012 National Day Rally:
This year our team won the International Biology Olympiad. We hosted it and we won, the team first place, and the International Mathematics Olympiad which I think was in Buenos Aires, a Singaporean Lim Jeck from NUS Math and Science School was the top student. He came in first, with full marks, the only one to score full marks this year, first time it has happened.

But we are not just focusing on the best students. Yes, we ought to celebrate our gold medalists, our outstanding ones, but our schools and teachers are also doing their best for every student, from the weakest to the most talented ones and that is why we say every school is a good school, every neighborhood you have a good school.

And this is not just a slogan, this is a reality.

So that was where the trouble started. "Every school is a good school" was no longer just a goal, but a "reality".

But in contradiction to this, since then, Mr Heng has continued to use the line as a stated goal rather than a statement of fact.

On 12 September 2012, he said in a speech to announce the abolishing of school banding:
To enable every student to be an engaged learner, every school has to be a good school.
For every school to be a good school, we cannot have cookie-cutter schools.

But the perception that the education minister said "Every school is a good school" as a fact persists and continues to be perpetuated.

On 21 November 2012, former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say posted on Facebook:
Is every school a good school?

It should be but it is not. This statement is not to demean the enormous hard work put in by school principals and teachers to help their students but is an indictment against the education system made bad by wrong policies. Much needs to be done policy-wise before every school becomes a good school.

The first step for the education minister to take is not to pretend that every school is a good school. He will then re-discover what his school teachers used to tell him and what teachers everywhere tell their pupils, that honesty is the best policy.
Did the education minister, Mr Heng, ever pretended that every school is a good school? Judging by what he said, I don't think so. The PM, on the other hand...

To add to the mixed signals, on 23 November 2012, PAP's own Hri Kumar Nair, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, posted on Facebook:
Yes, every school is a good school - but some schools are better.
PM Lee further confused the issue again at this year's National Day Rally when he said:
There are two different perspectives on education, on schools in Singapore. One is the MOE perspective - every school is a good school.
But then he also said:
I believe we can make every school a good school and we have done a lot of that to ensure that every school provides a good education for the students.

We give them the resources, we give them the good teachers, we emphasise values and we have made a lot of progress towards this goal... So every school is a good school and I push MOE very hard to give the schools the resources, the good principals, the flexibility, the authority to teach students according to their students’ needs, to make the system work.
This seems more consistent with what Mr Heng has been saying all along. So now "Every school is a good school" is back to being a goal and is not yet a "reality", even for PM Lee.

More recently, on Oct 13, Mr Heng posted on Facebook:
You may have learnt from the papers on Saturday that I will be sending some of our most experienced and well regarded principals to head schools in our heartland. This is one of the many ways in which we are working hard to make every school a good school.
Again, it's a stated goal, not a statement of fact.

After googling some more, I also found this quote attributed to Mr Heng at The Real Singapore:
There are no such things as elite schools. All schools are the same. Therefore, I will make sure that the bestest of the principals will now be posted to the worstest of schools. Remember what I say, there's no elite schools. They are all the same.
The problem is I couldn't find this quote anywhere else. I realised the quote is made up by the writer imagining what Mr Heng was saying, not what he actually said. I don't think a minister would use words like "bestest" and "worstest".

That's just not cricket. I mean, you can interpret and/or disagree with what someone is saying, but you can't put words in his mouth.

The trouble is even when the quote is accurate, the intended meaning can be lost.

Yes, the Jurong West Secondary School vice-principal did quote "our leaders" correctly. They did say "Every school is a good school", but I don't think they meant it the way she's saying they meant it.

Well, except for that one time at last year's National Day Rally.

Thursday 21 November 2013

First World problem: Too many red running shirts

On Saturday, I collected my race pack for this Sunday's Swissotel Vertical Marathon and was disappointed to find that the event tee was yet another red shirt (bottom right).

I took part in four running events this year (plus the Swissotel Vertical Marathon) and only the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Salomon Vertical City Trail shirt wasn't red. It was this ungodly combo of day-glo blue and pinkish orange.

There are organised mass runs practically every weekend in Singapore now. I decide what to join based on three main criteria:

The location
Nothing too far from Choa Chu Kang. It's tough (and silly) to wake up early in the morning and travel all the way to Sentosa just to run from zombies.

The distance
Nothing less than 10km, nothing more than half marathon.

I also have a rule to join only the longest distance in the event. Otherwise, I would feel like a second-class or third-class runner at the event. (Which I am, but I don't want to be made to feel like one.) But it's a rule I'm willing to break under the right circumstances.

For example, next month's Standard Chartered Marathon offers three distances: 42km. 21km and 10km. I would've joined the 21km race if not for the...

The shirt
Nothing too ugly, too kiddie or too girly.

I can run for free. So when I pay to join a run, I'm basically paying for the shirt.

I didn't join the Chua Chu Kang Big Farm Walk And Run last month even though it's near my place because it's called the Chua Chu Kang Big Farm Walk And Run, and that's what printed on the shirt.

The design is a little too "community centre" for me.

I would've joined the half marathon at the Standard Chartered Marathon if the shirt had been in a darker, more masculine blue.

Some events, like the Army Half Marathon, have two shirts for each participant: a running vest and a finisher's tee. That's value for money.

Unfortunately, both the Army Half Marathon shirts are red. (Well, one is red and black, and the other is black and red.)

Since it's the army, I wouldn't have minded army green shirts. But I guess being in the army, the organisers are sick of wearing green. So red is the logical choice as it's our national colour.

Which I suppose is a big reason other run organisers also go with red.

But a red shirt is not always so auspicious.

Especially when you have too many of them.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Exercise Heartbeat 2013 (with surprise guest)

Exercise Heartbeat, an emergency preparedness exercise led by the police with the SCDF, was held yesterday.

Different simulated terror attack scenarios were carried out. The exercise was conducted in two segments with the first at Orchard Road and the other at Biopolis Way and Raffles Place.

EARLIER: Why VR Man will outlive us all

Sunday 17 November 2013

No shit, Matt Damon: If you love Singapore, celebrate World Toilet Day

Remember, remember the 19th of November.

Going potty, poop and plop – I see no reason why World Toilet Day should ever be forgot.

While this Tuesday may not be the first World Toilet Day (it has been around since 2001), it will be the first World Toilet Day since July 24 when the United Nations adopted Singapore’s resolution to designate Nov 19 as World Toilet Day.

The man behind it was Singaporean Jack Sim, founder of the Restroom Association of Singapore and the World Toilet Organisation. He must be flushed with joy.

It was the first time Singapore had tabled a resolution before the UN General Assembly after 48 years as a UN member – and it had to be for a day to commemorate toilets. There’s a Phua Chu Kang joke there somewhere.

At least Singapore’s resolution wasn’t for a World No Chewing Gum Day.

But I’m disappointed that despite Singapore’s diplomatic coup, Nov 19 has yet to be gazetted as a public holiday here. I don’t even know what “gazetted” means.

So World Toilet Day will be like one of those pseudo-holidays, such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day, only instead of flowers, you can give your loved one scented bathroom tissue.

Actually, I’m not really sure what we are supposed to do on World Toilet Day. Instead of wearing costumes like on Halloween, do we wear diapers? What are the World Toilet Day traditions?

Well, just as a new song is written for National Day every year, a new song has been written for World Toilet Day this year and I reckon it’s even better than this year’s National Day song, although that may not be saying much.

I think the song is called Thank You Toilet and it’s sung by an animated toilet bowl with toilet rolls for eyes in a YouTube video released by an organisation called WaterAid.

The song starts:
“I am a toilet, so how do you do? I take away your wee and the odd number two.”
Other memorable lines:
“Oh, think about the things you put me through (that have been through you). Stuff from your body I happily take, liquid or solid, whatever you make.”
Then it suddenly goes from eeky to morbid:
“I am a lifesaver and that is not a lie. Where I don’t exist, thousands die.”
Knowing that is not going to improve my bowel movement at all.

The YouTube description says: “Around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation – that’s almost 2,000 children a day.”

So it’s no joke.

But sad to say, World Toilet Day has been overshadowed by another cause-driven enterprise this month – Movember.

Getting people to grow moustaches to raise awareness for men’s health issues since 2003, the Movember movement has become so fashionable that even my wife is growing facial hair.

And it isn’t even recognised by the UN.

But the UN does support International Men’s Day. Yes, there’s such a thing. Don’t tell Aware or they may try to get it banned.

And wouldn’t you know, International Men’s Day is on the same day as World Toilet Day – Nov 19. It seems the UN has double-booked.

World Toilet Day can’t compete with Movember because it’s not like it can get people to have diarrhoea to raise awareness of poor sanitation around the world.

Well, maybe it can, but it won’t be very visually appealing – although some may argue the same thing about moustaches. suggests a number of activities for the big day including organising a toilet queue, a “mass squat” and a “toilet sit-in”.

I won’t take part in a toilet sit-in (not to be mistaken for a “shit-in”) as I already have trouble walking after sitting on the toilet longer than I should just because I want to get three stars for an Angry Birds level. Two is not enough.

Even celebrities didn’t help the World Toilet Day cause very much.

Last year, US actor Matt Damon vowed at a mock press conference in a jokey YouTube video: “Until everyone has clean water and sanitation, I will not go to the bathroom.”

Despite support from other famous people like Richard Branson and U2’s Bono, I doubt anyone actually believed Damon wasn’t going to use the toilet until “everyone has clean water and sanitation”.

Maybe Damon should get his buddy Ben Affleck to direct a movie about World Toilet Day. Instead of Argo, the movie can be called Ahhh, I Have To Go.

In Singapore, the Restroom Association has announced several events for World Toilet Day including a LOO (Let’s Observe Ourselves) Carnival at shopping malls and a Hawker Centre Happy Toilet Cleanup on Tuesday.

But no mass squats or sit-ins.

Since I’m a patriot and World Toilet Day is recognised by the UN because of Singapore, come Nov 19, I shall make the ultimate sacrifice and have my own one-man toilet sit-in.

As long as I can play Angry Birds on my phone, my legs can take it.

- Published in The New Paper, 17 November 2013

UPDATE: World Toilet Day Urgent Run 2014 recap