Tuesday 30 September 2014

When you've lost Mr Brown, you've lost mainstream Singapore

It's a popular belief that in 1968, US president Lyndon Johnson said: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

This was recently updated to "When you’ve lost Jon Stewart, you’ve lost Middle America".

On Mr Brown's blog yesterday, Singapore's Blogfather pretty much came out and whacked "Roy Ngerng, Han Hui Hui and gang" for disrupting the YMCA event at Hong Lim Park on Saturday.

Or to use Mr Brown's exact words:
If my daughter, Faith, who has autism, or any of my kids, had been on stage performing that day at the YMCA event, and Roy Ngerng, Han Hui Hui and gang came over to disrupt the proceedings, I would have taken their signs and placards and shoved the lot up their collective arses.
I appreciate that Mr Brown (real name Lee Kin Mun) avoided saying that the Return Our CPF protesters "heckled" the kids, which was how it was widely and inaccurately reported.

I doubt the protesters intended to target the kids. It was just unfortunate they were doing their disruptive thing near the stage as the kids were taking the stage.

Even more unfortunate is that whoever uploaded the YouTube video of the incident entitled it "Hong Lim Park Protestors heckle Special Needs Children from YMCA".

And so the "heckling" meme spread along with the video.

The protest supporters can blame everyone (NParks, YMCA, police, PAP) and everything else for the chain of events, but it's hard to defend "heckling special needs children" even though that was not what actually happened.

There are those who support the protesters no matter what and there are those who are against them - and nothing can change the minds on either side. And then there are those who couldn't be bothered.

But this meme might have turned some of the couldn't-be-bothered against the protesters.

Before yesterday's tirade, Mr Brown couldn't be bothered. The only previous instance online I could find Mr Brown mentioning Ngerng was in this jokey tweet in reference to Ngerng raising money for his legal defence against the PM's lawsuit in June:

Once you've lost Mr Brown, you've lost public opinion.

Let's call it the Mr Brown Index.

You can't dismiss him as a PAP supporter (as you may former SPH journalist Bertha Henson despite her branding herself as a "troublemaker") since Mr Brown famously lost his gig as a Today newspaper columnist in 2006 after a complaint from the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts over an article he wrote.

(Sure, he was later invited to tea with the PM at the Istana in 2012, but so was Andrew Loh.)

And besides being an indicator of public opinion, Mr Brown can also influence it because of his popularity. (Fortunately or unfortunately, "Singapore's most popular blogger" Xiaxue is more interested in sharing her baby photos and promoting her sponsors than ruminating on current affairs.)

This makes Mr Brown's blog post pretty damaging for Ngerng and his cause, more so than any minister's comment.

The PM's lawsuit might have made Ngerng look like a martyr to some, but now, at least according to Mr Brown, Ngerng and his friends are just a "bunch of insensitive wankers".

The moral of the story?

You can attack the Government all you want, but you don't fuck around with special needs kids.

COLUMN: Roy and Hui Hui: Maybe we need a Manual Of Obedience

Sunday 28 September 2014

Joe Biden: US vice-president not the wisest man in the Occident

Dear Mr Joe Biden,

Sup from Singapore! Big fan.

Loved your walk-on on Parks And Rec. Totes hilar.

You’re just killing this Vice-President of the United States thing. Air five!

So here’s the deal.

About a week and a half ago, you got into a little controversy for saying something about our former prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

You were making a speech in Iowa (great state, by the way, someone there created a Wikipedia page about me) to kick off the Nuns On A Bus tour, which sounds like the title of a Monty Python movie from the 90s.

I didn’t see the whole speech.

Just the part on YouTube where you said:
“You know, on the way back from Mumbai to go meet with president Xi in China, I stopped in Singapore to meet with a guy named Lee Kuan Yew, who most foreign policy experts around the world say is the wisest man in the Orient.”

Wait, who, what?

You met “a guy named Lee Kuan Yew” who is said to be wisest man in “the Orient”?

Did the fumes from the nun bus get to you?

Who uses the term “the Orient” any more besides the Pirates Of The Caribbean?

Even Johnny Depp must be shaking his movie star head.

Critics quickly jumped on your remark, calling it a gaffe since the term is considered offensive to Asians.

You know, just like how the name of your local sports team, the Washington Redskins, is offensive to Native Americans, who used to be called “Indians”, which, if not offensive, is at least confusing to actual Indians from India.

It didn’t help that you had just earlier apologise for using another politically incorrect term, “shylocks”, in another speech.

The anti-anti-Semitism group, Anti-Defamation League, complained:
“Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The vice-president should have been more careful.”
I know what you’re thinking: “But Shakespeare used it! In The Merchant Of Venice!”

Yeah, but The Bard lived 500 years ago. So he might not be so up-to-date in the latest linguistic mores.

Willy even used “the Orient” in one of his sonnets.

The horror, the horror. (No, wait. That’s Joseph Conrad.)

But unlike you, William Gaffespeare didn’t have the Republican Party to contend with.

An Asian-American spokesman from the GOP tried to score political points by picking on your textual Orient-ation:
“Vice-President Joe Biden’s insensitive remarks are offensive to both Asian-Americans and our Asian allies abroad.

“His comment is not only disrespectful but also uses unacceptable imperialist undertones. It’s time for the vice-president to apologise and to understand that his comments embarrass our country.”
Really? I think this is the last thing you should worry about embarrassing your country.

(Cough, iPhone 6, cough, iOS 8, cough.)

The Republicans speaking up for a minority group? That’s a first. That would be like you defending gun rights. Am I right? Or am I right? Air 10!

I can’t speak for Asian-Americans, but as your Asian ally abroad, I don’t think Singaporeans are all that offended by your remarks.

So far, no press release from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemning your choice of words.

As someone in a local online forum commented: “I didn’t know the word ‘Orient’ is offensive to Asians.”

Should we also be offended that we have a hotel named Mandarin Oriental?

Actually, many Singaporeans aren’t even aware that you name-dropped Mr Lee in your speech.

I couldn’t find any mention of it in our local newspapers. The paper I work for, The New Paper, ran the story only on its website.

No offence, but if president Barack Obama had said it, then it would probably be a bigger deal.

Although comedian Jon Stewart made fun of your gaffes on The Daily Show, my sister said the Lee Kuan Yew bit was cut out of the Comedy Central Asia broadcast of the show here.

To be fair, it wasn’t you who called Mr Lee “the wisest man in the Orient”. It was those insensitive “foreign policy experts around the world”.

However, I am a little disturbed by one thing you did say.

You referred to our 91-year-old former PM as “a guy named Lee Kuan Yew”.

Mr Lee is not “a guy”.

He is Limpeh!

You have to admit you’re not the wisest man in the Occident for saying what you did.

What next? Are you going to refer to our current PM as “a dude named Lee Hsien Loong”?

But don’t get me wrong. I still love America. My favourite insurance company is the American Insurance Association, also known as AIA.


So what was it like working with Amy Poehler?

Good luck in 2016!

From Singapore with love,
SM Ong

- Published in The New Paper, 28 September 2014

EARLIER: Brash man Orient-tation: Lee Kuan Yew's just this guy, y'know

It was all a blur: My Straits Times Run At The Hub photos

Here are some pictures I took with my iPhone and Narrative camera at my 10km The Straits Times Run at the Hub 2014.

At the starting line.

And we're off!

F1 Pit Building with the bankrupt Singapore Flyer in the background.

Helix Bridge towards Marina Bay Sands.

Outside The Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay.

The same choke point I encountered at the Army Half Marathon last year, but not much delay this time.


Crossing the bridge to Singapore Indoor Stadium next to the Singapore Sports Hub.

Approaching the hub. Almost there!

The familiar dome.

Into the belly of the beast.

Running on the Sports Hub track.

The finish line!

Inside the dome.

Selfie with the dome. The square white thing on my collar is the Narrative camera.

Completing the 10km was tougher than I thought. My timing was about 1 hour 2 minutes. Glad I didn't sign up for the 21km.

Growing old sucks.

Next up, the Hello Kitty Run on Sentosa in November!

It's only 5km, so that should be easy.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Brash man Orient-tation: Lee Kuan Yew's just this guy, y'know

"A guy"?

In a speech last Wednesday in the US state of Iowa, US Vice-President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said:
You know, on the way back from Mumbai to go meet with President Xi in China, I stopped in Singapore to meet with a guy named Lee Kuan Yew, who most foreign policy experts around the world say is the wisest man in the Orient.
US media quickly called out the use of the word "Orient":
The word “Orient” is considered widely outdated and could be perceived as offensive, or insensitive, especially when used in reference to people.
So did the rival party, the Republicans.
The Republican National Committee jumped on the remark, with its Asian-American spokesman Ninio Fetalvo saying in a statement, “Vice President Joe Biden’s insensitive remarks are offensive to both Asian-Americans and our Asian allies abroad.”

“His comment is not only disrespectful but also uses unacceptable imperialist undertones. It’s time for the vice president to apologize and to understand that his comments embarrass our country,” Fetalvo added.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, crickets.

If anyone should be offended by Biden's brash remark about LKY, shouldn't it be Singaporeans?

I found out about this only after watching last Thursday's episode of The Daily Show where John Stewart made fun of Biden's gaffes.

I mentioned it to my TNP colleagues and it was finally reported by Singapore media yesterday.

It seems Singaporeans are less sensitive about the word "Orient" than Americans are.

As one local netizen commented: "I didn't know the word 'Orient' is offensive to Asians."

Indeed, not very long ago, in the 1987 broadcast of the Miss Universe pageant from Singapore, our country was referred to as "the exotic Orient".

I guess to Singaporeans, "Orient" just seems comically retro rather than offensive, like someone saying "groovy" or "disco".

Murder On The Orient Express, anyone?

It's not like Biden called LKY "one smart Oriental". Now that would be racist. Just like the hotel.

I suspect Singaporeans are more likely to be disturbed that the Veep referred to our 91-year-old former prime minister as "a guy named Lee Kuan Yew".

"A guy"?

Since when did Biden become a character from Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy? LKY's just this "guy", y'know?

This linguistic dissonance reminds of the culture shock I experienced when I went to the US for college in the late 80s. It was a transitional period when the language of "political correctness" was just starting to take hold.

I was surprised to learn that words like "Chinaman" and "Jap" are considered racial slurs. "Oriental" was replaced by "Asian".

But being called "Asian" felt strange to me. I thought of myself as Singaporean or Chinese, but rarely Asian even though I am one. Granted, I would feel even weirder being called "Oriental".

The non-Caucasian American students in my college liked to call themselves "people of colour", which I found bizarre. Since I was also non-Caucasian, by default, I became a "person of colour" too.

I also had to get used to being called a "minority".

So when the issue of "Chinese privilege" in Singapore was brought up recently, I thought it was about time - although it should be more accurately called "majority privilege" since it can apply to any multi-racial society.

I assume this came out of the debate over "white privilege" in the wake of the Ferguson protests in the US last month.

So while the US and Singapore have different racial histories and are offended by different words, I believe the problem of "majority privilege" is at least one thing we have in common.

By the way, "shylock" is also a no-no. Blame Willy Shakespeare.

EARLIER: Nitpicking the language of race, nationality & geography

Sunday 21 September 2014

Hello, queues: The iPhone is not a cat

Haze and triple-digit PSI.

Long, unruly queues all over Singapore for something that sold out quickly.

Police were called.

It was like June 2013 all over again.

Except the haze isn’t as bad this year. Touch wood that the Indonesian farmers haven’t burned yet.

Last year, the queues were for the McDonald’s Hello Kitty Fairy Tales toy.

Oh, Ugly Duckling Hello Kitty, you’re so the opposite of ugly. You’re worth sucking unhealthy air for.

After years of causing catty chaos with their Hello Kitty promotions, McDonald’s finally got into the 21st century and let people pre-order the Bubbly World toys online this June.

And thus the Kitty queues were quelled.

Last week, the overnight queues were not for Hello Kitty but for buses going to Johor where the MDA-restricted documentary, To Singapore, With Love, was screened on Friday as part of the Freedom Film Festival.

I’m kidding. The queues were for the iPhone 6.

At least Singaporeans got their priorities right.

If you want to watch To Singapore, With Love in the country mentioned in the title, all you have to do is matriculate.

But be careful not to matriculate every day or you may go blind.

On Friday, MDA said it “recognises that lecturers and students of media or related courses at tertiary institutions may require access to a wider variety of films...

“Some leeway is provided to these institutions to screen films for educational purposes, on condition that these films have either been previously classified by the MDA, or prior approval has been sought from the MDA before the films are acquired.”

You see how clever MDA is?

After making the mistake of stirring interest in the Tan Pin Pin-directed documentary by giving it a “Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR)” classification, it’s now attempting to kill interest by making it “educational”.

Talk about box-office poison.

At the end of the day, To Singapore, With Love is still just a documentary. It’s not Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s not even a documentary about the making of Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Not a gun-wielding raccoon on a waking tree in sight.

Anyway, someone will eventually upload To Singapore, With Love on YouTube, where you can also watch Tan’s previously best known work, Singapore GaGa, for free.

You can even watch it on your new iPhone 6 if you’re one of those who successfully queued for it.

The rest of us can watch it on our antediluvian iPhone 5s and Android phones like animals.

Sorry if I sound a little bitter. I came close to pre-ordering the iPhone 6 at the Apple online store but hesitated and... I don’t want to talk it.

Like the Kitty Hello Bubbly World Collection, you could also pre-order the iPhone 6 online.

But while the toys sold out online in a week, the iPhone 6 was gone within minutes.

One SingTel customer who pre-registered his interest in an iPhone 6 Plus was so upset about not getting his device that he started an online petition to protest.

The petition asked for pre-registered SingTel customers to be allowed to buy the iPhone 6 Plus this weekend “and not iPhone 6”.

The petition also said: “We do not want to queue for the remaining stock of iPhone 6 and wish to buy iPhone 6 Plus at appointment booking timings.”

The iPhone 6 Plus is apparently the iPhone 5s Gold of this year.

Another telco, M1, suspended online pre-orders for 12 hours after a customer stumbled onto a security loophole.

Strange to say that McDonald’s might have handled the online thing a bit better than the telcos. At least the fast food chain quelled the queues.

I actually think it’s less irrational to queue for a Hello Kitty toy than for an iPhone.

And I’m not just saying that because I like Hello Kitty ironically.

Each Hello Kitty toy was available at McDonald’s for only a week. Once it was sold out, it was pretty much gone for good.

The black Singing Bone Hello Kitty toy, which I so desperately wanted, is now priced from $13.99 to $88 on eBay. If I had managed to get it last year at McDonald’s, it would’ve cost me only $4.60 with a meal.

Now I wish I had started a petition to protest against me not getting the Singing Bone Hello Kitty.

As for the iPhone, if it’s sold out, new stock will eventually be available.

Are living in such an accelerated culture that we can’t wait for anything any more?

Actually, queuing is also a form of waiting, so the joke’s on the queuers.

So if you insist on queuing to satisfy your desire for instant gratification, expect bad things to happen.

As I’ve just scientifically established, iPhone queuers are even less rational than Hello Kitty queuers.

Police were called on Friday to settle iPhone queue disputes at Tampines Mall and 112 Katong. Apple retailer Nubox said on Facebook that the iPhone 6 launch at the Katong mall outlet was cancelled to “protect the safety of our customers and staff”.

That didn’t make the people who queued overnight in Katong very happy. Perhaps they can try their luck on eBay, where a 128GB iPhone 6, which retails at $1,288 without contract, was auctioned off yesterday for $1,650.

Wah. That’s an even higher profit margin than for the Singing Bone Hello Kitty.

Hmmm. Maybe those iPhone queuers aren’t so irrational after all.

I wonder if I can find an iPhone 6 in JB.

I hope the $13.99 Hello Kitty is still available on eBay.

Anyone queuing for the Apple Watch?

- Published in The New Paper, 21 September 2014

Sunday 14 September 2014

Goodbye, Boanne: Did Joanne Peh marry Qi Yuwu just to spite me?

Okay, I surrender. I admit it. I was wrong.

In April last year, I wrote a column called “So is Joanne Peh really going out with Qi Yuwu?

This week, should my column be called “So did Joanne Peh really marry Qi Yuwu?”

Because apparently, TV stars Peh and Qi got married on Sentosa in front of the Merlion statue last week and celebrity stylist David Gan posted a picture of the ceremony on Instagram with the caption in Chinese: “My other daughter is married.”

Wait, what? Gan has daughters?

Who knew he had children in the first place? Who’s the mother?

He’s the mother?

But he’s a guy.

My shock is reflected in the expression on the Merlion’s face.

Many were also surprised by Peh and Qi getting married.

Actress Pan Lingling said it best: “Really!”

The quiet quickie wedding of Peh and Qi has been compared to that of US movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie whose secret nuptials last month also took everyone by surprise. (If only David Gan was there to Instagram it.)

But then Brangelina have been dating since 2005 and have 500 children together.

On the other hand, Peh and Qi – let’s call them Joyu for short – have been dating only since last year.

Before that, many expected Peh to marry Bobby Tonelli. Let’s call them Boanne (rather than Jobby) for short.

As someone tweeted: “Wait, I always think that Joanne Peh is still with Bobby Tonelli and then suddenly she is married to Qi Yuwu already?”

I know the feeling. I, too, have trouble getting over Boanne even though Tonelli has moved on and now has a Indonesian Muslim girlfriend.

But the reason I can’t let go isn’t that Boanne lasted four long years whereas Joyu have been around only for a year plus change.

It’s that Joyu have yet to have a defining moment like Boanne did with the infamous Nando’s water incident.

In 2011, Boanne went to the Nando’s in Tanglin Mall for dinner and a request for hot water turned into national news after Peh tweeted about the bad service. Less than a week later, Tanglin Mall was forced to close due to flooding caused by heavy rain.

Even Mother Nature was on Boanne’s side.

On the other hand, when news broke 15 months ago about Peh dating Qi, quite a few people, including myself, questioned the relationship.

There was speculation that it was a publicity stunt. If it was, it certainly worked, partly due to media reports speculating that it was a publicity stunt.

Qi even addressed the gay rumours in an 8 Days magazine interview, saying: “People can say whatever they want.”

And people have.

After the Joyu wedding came to light, someone asked on Twitter: “Qi Yuwu is straight meh?”

To which another person tweeted in reply: “Joanne Peh is officially the most committed beard ever.”

I have no idea what that means. How does the actress resemble male facial hair?

Another tweet: “Is Joanne Peh secretly a guy?”


Someone else tweeted: “It’s like the 'Jacintha & Dick Lee’ wedding façade.”

I have no idea what that means either.

But Joyu have their supporters as well.

After my column asking “Is Joanne Peh really going out with Qi Yuwu?” came out last year, I received this e-mail:
“Well, according to an informed source, Joanne stayed the night at QYW this past Wednesday night. You do the maths as they say.”
Maths? You mean, like one plus 715 equal 716?

Twitter joke: If Joyu have a baby, the kid should be named Qi Yuliu. Get it?

Ever since that column, my resentment for Joyu grew with each picture I saw of them together. It was as if they were purposely letting themselves be photographed as a couple just to spite me.

Then came the Merlion wedding photo that Gan posted last Tuesday.

It was Joyu taunting me: “Remember you wrote about how our relationship isn’t real? Well, we’re getting married just to prove you wrong, you Hello Kitty-loving old hippy!”

Okay, I surrender. I admit it. I was wrong.

Can Joyu please stop rubbing it in my face now?

You know who Joyu should go after? Their MediaCorp colleague Elvin Ng, who said: “Real love should be admired and respected anywhere, so if it’s real love, it should be congratulated.”

What does he mean, “if”? Of course, it’s real love! How dare he insinuate otherwise?

I’m also concerned by what Peh told Qi in her wedding vow:
“I’ve missed you for the first half of my life and I am glad I am going to spend the second half of my life with you.”
Does that mean that Peh, who is 31, expects to live only till 62?

Maybe the Government can make an exception for her and let her withdraw all her CPF at 55 so that she can enjoy the money in the last few years of her life.

Does this mean that I’m finally over Boanne?

I suppose, in a way, the David Gan Instagram has become the Nando’s water incident for Joyu.

Thanks to the Gan-ster, Joyu now have their own defining moment. And they didn’t have to go to a chicken restaurant for it.

Someone should make a documentary about the wedding and call it To Sentosa, With Love.

MDA wouldn’t ban that, would it?

I mean, this doesn’t count as a gay wedding, right?

Or does it?

- Published in The New Paper, 14 September 2014


Here are a few choice tweets about the Joanne Peh-Qi Yuwu wedding

Joanne Peh & Qi Yuwu: Is she really going out with him?

UPDATE: Joanne Peh & Qi Yuwu expecting their first child: Twitter reacts