Sunday 29 June 2014

Real reason cops stopped street screening of World Cup?

It is clearly an issue that has divided the nation.

What started as a simple gathering of folks from different walks of life coming together for a common cause turned into a major controversy in Singapore last week.

There are those who are against it. There are those who support it. There are those who couldn’t care less.

What it comes down to is compassion versus the law. Community versus authority. Openness versus intolerance. Us versus them. Argentina versus Nigeria. (Sorry, World Cup overdose.)

It’s about The Powers That Be crushing the Little Guy like a butterfly on a wheel, even though the Little Guy was only trying to help his fellow butterflies.

Or maybe moths are a better analogy, since I’m still seeing those damn bugs all over the place.

Actually, “A butterfly on a wheel” is the title of an article in The Economist about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against former Tan Tock Seng Hospital patient coordinator Roy Ngerng, which the PM’s press secretary rebutted recently.

Butterfly On A Wheel also happens to be the title of my favourite song by UK goth band The Mission, led by a guy who used to be in another great UK goth band, The Sisters Of Mercy.

Which makes me wonder if the person who wrote the headline for The Economist article is a goth fan. I’m assuming the PM’s press sec is not.

But I’m not talking about Mr Ngerng.

I’m also not talking about the Pink Dot event at Hong Lim Park yesterday, which encountered opposition from religious groups.

A Wear White movement was started to protest against the Pink Dot event.

But what if you’re a black-wearing goth fan who wants to join the anti-gay movement? Would wearing grey be a suitable compromise?

And it seems homophobic goth fans are not the only ones facing a sartorial dilemma when it comes to picking what colour to wear.

On Friday, my man-crush and Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng pondered on Instagram: “What to wear for tomorrow’s rice distribution? Red, white or blue top.”

At first, I thought it was just his subtle way of reflecting on which side to take on the gay issue, but then I realised pink wasn’t one of the colour options.

Maybe it was just his subtle way of reflecting which team to support in the World Cup.

Well, he could wear all three colours and root for Chile in their match against Brazil.

But which hue you hew to is not the issue I’m pursuing here.

The issue I’m talking about that has divided the nation is whether the cops should have busted up a makeshift outdoor showing of the Argentina-Nigeria World Cup match in Balestier on Thursday night.

Folks from different walks of life had gathered outside a house on Sing Avenue for a common cause – watching a football game on TV for free.

But the police were against it, citing safety concerns.

There are those who supported it, citing the community spirit.

There are those who couldn’t care less, citing having better things to worry about, like wearing the right colour top.

The Little Guy being crushed by The Powers That Be is 24-year-old Rooban Kanth, who had set up his 42-inch LCD TV on the street to share his love for The Beautiful Game.

Where did he think he was? Hong Lim Park?

About 80 World Cup fans reportedly assembled outside Mr Kanth’s home.

Fewer people than that have been arrested in the past for unlawful assembly.

Some have criticised the police for overreacting. I mean, it’s not like anyone bit anyone’s shoulder.

But I believe I may have figured out the real reason the cops stopped the screening.

It was because Mr Kanth was forcing those 80 people to watch the game on a microscopic 42-inch TV!

What are we? Animals?

My eyes hurt just thinking about it. Are we still living in the 90s?

Come on, Mr Kanth lives in a terrace house. Couldn’t he afford at least a 60-inch TV?

I just saw one on sale at Courts for less than $1,500.

I’m not even going to ask whether he provided a 2.1 soundbar.

And why stop at just World Cup games?

If Mr Kanth should ever decide to screen a three-movie Transformers Blu-ray marathon for people before they watch Age Of Extinction, I’m there.

But for that, I expect no less than a 5.1 surround sound system.

I’ll even wear my Optimus Prime T-shirt.

It’s blue.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 June 2014

UPDATE: The Baey wore white. Does it mean...?

Thursday 26 June 2014

Equal-opportunity objectification in The New Paper

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has called out the objectification of women in the newspaper I work for.

Here is what Aware posted on Facebook today with a photo of a page in today's New Paper about babes at the World Cup:

I agree with Aware that the objectification of women is wrong.

I also want to object to the objectification of men in the same paper on the same day which Aware has failed to mention.

This is why we need Amare.

But it seems journalist-turned-blogger Bertha Henson rather enjoys the objectification of men:

Hubba hubba.

Sunday 22 June 2014

The fault in our Jem – here come the waterworks

Yes, I cried at the movie.

It was about two young people in love and one of them dies.

I am, of course, talking about The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Having teared up once (okay, maybe twice) in the cinema this year is more than enough. I have a manly man image to protect.

That is why I refused to watch The Fault In Our Stars with my teen daughter who is a fan of the John Green novel the movie is based on.

I saw the trailer. I read the reviews. And the spoilers. So I let her see the weepie with her mother.

Now that I think about it, The Fault In Our Stars and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are practically the same movie (except one of them has a giant metal rhino in it).

Both movies are about loving someone even though you know you could get hurt in the end.

Which sort of describes my relationship with Jem.

Yes, I’m talking about the incident-prone Jurong East mall celebrating its first birthday this month.

I love Jem. It’s near where I live and convenient to get to.

I just saw How To Train Your Dragon 2 there on Monday. No, I didn’t cry at that one.

I took my mum to the Din Tai Fung restaurant there for a Mother’s Day dinner. I cried when I saw the bill.

I know for some of you, it must come as a shock that Jem is even still around, considering all that has happened to the mall since it opened a year ago.

It’s a wonder the ground didn’t simply open up and swallow the whole structure by now.

If a meteor should hit Earth, Jem would be the point of impact.

If Godzilla should ever visit Singapore, Jem would be the first building levelled.

If Jem were in the World Cup, it would be England. (I’m not saying Spain because Spain were at least champions four years ago.)

To quote John Green: “There is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.”

And yet. And yet!

Like Tom Cruise’s movie career and the character he plays in Edge Of Tomorrow, Jem just refuses to say die.

You have to admire that.

To quote Green again: “Our fearlessness shall be our secret weapon.”

It’s going to take more than a delayed opening, two fires in four days, a false ceiling collapse, a broken glass door, a power failure and a Wikipedia page listing all these incidents to bring Jem down.

Not even a newer, sexier mall next door called Westgate, which opened about six months after Jem.

There was no delayed opening due to fire permits not being ready or other mishaps at Westgate.

The worst thing that happened there was when the resurrected Borders bookstore died (again).

Someone should shoot it in the head to make sure it doesn’t come back as a zombie (again).

But forget Westgate.

So what if it still has Isetan, Tim Ho Wan and the place in the basement that sells waffle burgers?

That’s right, these burgers have waffles for buns.

And you thought the new Burger King Transformers beef and chicken Whopper Bot was insane.

Waffle burgers are insaner.

Forget all that.

Jem is celebrating its first birthday and nothing is going to dampen the festivity, goddammit!

Not even waffle burgers.

Cue the indoor rain.

On Tuesday, it appeared to rain inside the mall.

Was it the urinating woman from Pinnacle@Duxton emptying a particularly full bladder in the Jem lift?

Or was it the tears from people watching The Fault In Our Stars in the Cathay Cineplex on the fifth storey?

No, it can’t be because the indoor rain happened on Tuesday and the movie opened only on Thursday.

And nobody’s bladder can be that full.

This is what Jem posted on Facebook to explain what happened:
“At 12:15pm, 17th June, the atrium side water sprinklers on level 3 in the mall were triggered, affecting a small section of the mall’s common areas on Levels B1, 1 and 2 and some tenancies in those areas.

“The water has been cleared from those areas by 4:00pm the same day. Jem remains open to shoppers and public.”
Did you read that?

“Jem remains open to shoppers and public.”

It wasn’t going to let a little water rain on its birthday parade. Sprinklers shprinklers.

I guess I should count myself lucky that for all the times I have been to Jem, I have yet to encounter a single mishap, although sometimes I feel like I’m missing out.

The worst thing that happened to me at Jem was when I went to buy movie tickets at Cathay last month and was told they only sold food and drinks at that counter. I had to go to another counter to buy tickets. I was so embarrassed.

But I suppose it’s only a matter of time that one day, the false ceiling would fall on me and I would drown in a flash flood and simultaneously burn to death at Jem.

And when that day comes, I would (mis)quote The Fault In Our Stars one last time: “You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world... but you do have some say in who hurts you.

“I like my choices.”


You need a tissue?

- Published in The New Paper, 22 June 2014

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

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Long-haired bands now allowed, but...

Yesterday, I had lunch with one of my first TV bosses whom I haven't seen in years.

His name is Neil Wilson and he now looks like Santa Claus.

Neil is from Australia. I first met him in December 1993 after I was hired to write for a new Channel 5 variety show called Live On 5, which would introduce the world to Gurmit Singh.

Neil was the executive producer of the show and didn't have the beard then.

Here for a visit, Neil says he now thinks Singapore is one of the greatest cities in world ("Everything works!"), although 20 years ago, he hated it.

Every time he got frustrated at MediaCorp (or Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, as it was called then), he would listen to the song Down On The Border by the Aussie group Little River Band.

According to Neil, the song was written after the band weren't allowed to play in Singapore because of their long hair.

Here are the lyrics:
I just got back from the border
And what I saw, made me know for sure
We're out of order

I had a dream about New Orleans
At Jackson Square, I heard their prayer
Down in New Orleans

On the run, there's a life for livin'
But the people there, they just don't care
Livin' their life like a millionaire
Down on the border

You never see me in old Iran
The women there don't know who I am
In old Iran

And I never will go to Singapore
The people there will cut your hair
In Singapore

On their streets there's a life of plenty
Oh, but they'll never know about the freedom show
They're livin' in darkness years ago
Down on the border

They built a wall at the border
Not to keep us out but to leave no doubt
They're out of order, hey

And all the people who are trapped within
Serve to show just how far we'll go
And how dumb we've been

At the top life looks so easy
But they'll never know what they'll never know
They're much too busy countin' all their dough
From the border, from the border

This is a revelation to me. I'm a fan of LRB, but I never knew about this song, which was released in 1982.

Of course, nowadays, bands with long hair are welcomed in Singapore, although gay anthems may not be.

To paraphrase another LRB song, it's a long way there, it's a long way to where we're going.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Forgive me for I have sinned on Wikipedia

I have a confession to make.

No, I’m not admitting to holding up the queue at the Redhill hawker centre on Thursday night and made Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wait 30 minutes for chicken wings.

I’m more a yong tau foo guy.

My confession has to do with something I did on Wikipedia that I shouldn’t have.

You know how last week, the Wikipedia page on the People’s Action Party (PAP) was vandalised?

It all started on Wednesday when someone with the user name AlikVesilev made a few changes on the page.

They include changing “People’s Action Party” to “Party Against People” and adding a long rant about how blogger Roy Ngerng was fired from his hospital job “because he had spoken against the Party Against People’s government ruling of CPF”.

Within a minute of AlikVesilev’s changes, they were automatically undone by a bot, citing “possible vandalism”.

Not so easily deterred, AlikVesilev reinstated his changes two minutes later. But eight minutes later, his changes were reversed by another user.

And so the PAP wiki page remained vandalism-free – for about 14 hours.

On Thursday, a user named Pomint (possibly AlikVesilev in disguise) reinstated all the Party Against People stuff, kicking off a flurry of edits by different users in a 90-minute span.

It became so messy and confusing that at one point, the bot, which had earlier removed the vandalism, actually reinstated the vandalism.

In the whole of last month, the PAP wiki page was edited six times. On Thursday alone, the page was edited 22 times – plus another 28 times on Friday.

One of the Friday edits was to include an entry about “an edit war between vandals and editors of Wikipedia” over the page, which started just a day earlier. How prompt. How meta.

The vandals have since been repelled (for now). No more “Party Against People”. The edit war is over (if you want it).

I didn’t have anything to do with any of that.

Although during the edit war, I thought about going into the PAP wiki page and type some nonsense like “World Cup referee kayu!” just to see what would happen, but then I realised I don’t really watch football.

But this Wikipedia saga has forced me to confront my own guilt, which is why I want to make this confession.

I have edited my own Wikipedia page.

This is a strict no-no because of the obvious conflict of interest. I had resisted doing so for a while until one day, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I created a Wikipedia account and just did it.

Forgive me, wikigods, for I have sinned.

Several times.

In my defence, I did not create the wiki page about myself myself and I couldn’t let the inaccuracies go uncorrected.

I didn’t want to be like my former New Paper colleague Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, whose wiki page still says that she lives in the Bahamas and she doesn’t. She lives in Farrer Park.

According to Wikipedia (what else?), my wiki page was created on Feb 12, 2012, by a retired assistant vice-principal of a US high school, who lives with his wife in a farmhouse in rural Pocahontas County, Iowa.

His name is Edgar Vekilnik, Jr.

I don’t know any Edgar Vekilnik, Jr. I have never been to Iowa. I don’t know how he knows me.

It was kind of disconcerting to discover some stranger living halfway around the world writing about you on one of the planet’s most visited websites.

I felt like I was losing control of my own identity. It was worse than losing my identity card, which I have also done.

Especially when the things written about me were not true, even if it was just little things.

Like me being “the writer and producer of Phua Chu Kang The Movie”.

The fact is I only wrote the script. I wasn’t the producer. And I’m not just saying that because of how poorly the movie was received.

So I went into my wiki page and deleted “and producer”.

Almost immediately, I had cold feet and in Singapore’s climate, that should be preventable.

I went back into my wiki page and undeleted my deletion.

Some time later, I changed my mind again and tried to undo my undeletion of my deletion, but I was blocked.

I had been flagged as a vandal for editing my own page. I was banned from editing anything on Wikipedia for six months.

After six months, I went in and made all the corrections I wanted to make, like the name of the show I wrote that won the Asian TV Award for best comedy in 2005. It was Daddy’s Girls, not Phua Chu Kang (although I was an executive producer of the latter show).

Conflict of interest be damned.

While I was at it, I considered moving my friend Paik Choo back to Singapore but decided she might actually prefer living in the Bahamas.

Then I waited to see if I would be banned again. I wasn’t.

Emboldened, I uploaded a nice picture of myself taken by my wife in 2011 at VivoCity to Wikipedia. It’s still there.

And so is the guilt.

Maybe some Redhill chicken wings will make me feel better. Uh... I mean yong tau foo.

Don’t play, play with Wikipedia.

- Published in The New Paper, 15 June 2014

EARLIER: Thanks, Wikipedia, for giving me my own page, but...

Friday 13 June 2014

So was Baey Yam Keng misquoted?

Today, The Straits Times published a report about the Wikipedia page on the People's Action Party being vandalised.

Soon after, Mr Baey Yam Keng, who was quoted in the report, posted this on Instagram.

He also added this comment:
I have requested @straits_times to make a file correction as I DID NOT "call on ruling party to consider legal action".

Mr Baey's Instagram post was then reported by Channel News Asia.

I was very confused by the MP's Instagram comment and the CNA report. They give the impression that The Straits Times had somehow misquoted Mr Baey.

I re-read everything carefully again and again, and I think I finally figured out what happened.

ST didn't misquote Mr Baey.

This is what the newspaper reported:
"Wikipedia has made it clear that these edits constitute vandalism and they are certainly not something we would condone or support," said Mr Baey.

"Whether any legal action can be taken is something we need to consider. We need to look at whether there is indeed any legal recourse for us. Ultimately it is quite a vicious attack."

Mr Baey said the PAP "respects that Wikipedia is an open source platform and anyone with an account can go in and do edits, but there is a certain expected code of conduct on Wikipedia and this is certainly not acceptable".

He added that the party had not decided whether to make a police report

None of that is the problem.

The problem is that the headline writer summarised and paraphrased what Mr Baey said into "MP calls for ruling party to consider legal action".

And that is what my man-crush wants a correction for. Not anything in the report per se, but the sub-head.

Nowhere in the report did Mr Baey actually call for PAP to consider legal action, although "We need to look at whether there is indeed any legal recourse for us" comes pretty close. That's the danger of paraphrasing.

So the ST reporter didn't misquote him.

It was the ST headline writer who might have misrepresented Mr Baey's quotes (at least according to Mr Baey).

As a sub-editor myself, I can empathise. It's very hard to give good head.


ST published a clarification the next day and Mr Baey responded again on Instagram:
I thank @straits_times for making the file correction and publishing a clarification today.


Mr Baey responded to this blog post on Instagram:
@sm_ong you are spot on. Yes, not easy to be a good headline writer. ..☺

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Roy Ngerng: 'I admit allegation was false'

After firing Roy Ngerng, who is being sued by PM Lee Hsien Loong for defamation, Tan Tock Seng Hospital released this statement:
"While our staff are free to pursue their personal interests outside work, they must conduct themselves properly, honorably and with integrity. In particular, they cannot defame someone else without basis, which essentially means knowingly stating a falsehood to the public."

Some are accusing the hospital of jumping the gun by assuming that Ngerng is guilty of defamation before he has even gone to court.

The thing is, in his letter of apology to the PM last month, didn't Ngerng pretty much "admit and acknowledge" defaming the PM in his blog?

From what I understand, the PM is taking Ngerng to court because Ngerng didn't meet the PM's other demands.

So I don't think TTSH overstepped by implying that Ngerng had defamed "someone else without basis".

Maybe the hospital can sue for defamation? Nah, just kidding.

UPDATE: Blogger's lawyer asks TTSH and MOH to 'exercise restraint'

UPDATE UPDATE: Roy Ngerng: 'It was never my intention to say that the prime minister had misappropriated the money'

Monday 9 June 2014

Two races in one morning... or not

So I screwed up again.

On Feb 19, I registered for the National Vertical Marathon at the 63-story OUB Centre at Raffles Place. I had taken part in the same event last year when it was held at the 48-storey Asia Square.

On April 23, I signed up my family for the 5km PAssian Mappy Race at Japanese Garden in Jurong.

I didn't look carefully at the dates of the events. Since registration for each event opened two months apart, I assumed the events would also be two months apart.

I was wrong.

Both events were on June 8 morning.

I was screwed.

What should I do?

Because the runners for the vertical marathon were flagged off in batches, I thought I could get to Raffles Place really early and persuade - or beg if I had to - the organisers to give me an earlier flag-off time for me to make the Mappy Race flag-off at 7:45am.

I was wrong.

On Sunday morning, I reached Raffles Place by taxi a few minutes after 6am.

After collecting my race T-shirt and race bib, I was told my race would start only at 7am.

The race would take about 20 minutes. That wouldn't give me enough time to get to Japanese Garden from there.

I asked the organisers if I could start the race earlier... or much, much later (like after the Mappy Race).

They said no.

I decided to skip the National Vertical Marathon, which I paid $26 to join, and took the MRT train from Raffles Place to Chinese Garden for the Mappy Race, which was the priority as I was running it with my family.

At least I got a nice blue (not red) National Vertical Marathon T-shirt for the $26. I even wore it for the Mappy Race.

Here are some pics from the race.

The compass and map we were given for orienteering.

At the starting line with the guest of honour, MP Cedric Foo (in white).

Japanese Garden.

On the bridge joining Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden.

Chinese Garden.

At a checkpoint wearing the National Vertical Marathon T-shirt .

Near the finish line.

Checking in at the finish line.

Our results.

And of course, at the end of every race, the comforting sight of the Milo truck.