Sunday 30 November 2014

What's with all the penis pics in the papers lately? It's a cancer

Excuse my language, but it’s for a good cause.

No, that’s not a mistake. You’re not reading last week’s column again even though it started with the same line.

I’m just plagiarising myself, which I think it’s okay. It’s not like I’m plagiarising Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong.

This time, I’m asking you to excuse my language because I’m going to use the word “penis” a few times in this column.

And I’m not talking about the “ship name” for Peeta and Katniss from The Hunger Games.

Ready? Here goes.

Last week, newspaper readers in Singapore had penises coming out of our ears.

On Tuesday, there was a picture of a penis in The New Paper. On Wednesday, there was another penis picture in The Straits Times. There were penises everywhere!

This is notable because newspapers usually make it a point to avoid publishing pictures of penises. Newspapers don’t even like publishing the word “penis”.

So far this year, TNP has used the word only seven times. Since The Straits Times is a broadsheet and twice the size of TNP, The Straits Times has used the word twice as often — 14 times.

TNP should beat that number after my column today.

Not that it’s a competition.

In comparison, TNP has used the word “boobs” 55 times this year, handily beating The Straits Times’s 26 times.

Not that it’s a competition.

But it’s safe to say readers are much more used to seeing pictures of women’s cleavages than men’s penises in the newspaper.

So what news story could’ve prompted this sudden surge of penis appearances in our papers?

Was it the recent survey of 300 Singapore residents above the age of 25 that found that one third of them had sex less than once a month?

Dr Colin Teo, who heads Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s Department of Urology, told The Straits Times that this is less than the once a week or once a fortnight frequency that most think is ideal.

“It could be due to stress, logistical issues like staying in a small home with kids and in-laws, or sexual dysfunction,” said Dr Teo.

Stress? Logistical issues? Sure.

But sexual dysfunction?

Isn’t it less embarrassing to simply admit that you’re having sex less than once a month simply because no one wants to sex with you?

But I guess having no sex is better than becoming like controversial “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc who has been banned from entering Singapore.

Or Bill Cosby.

Who has yet to be banned from entering Singapore. Someone should get an online petition going.

Speaking of sexual dysfunction, could the penis pictures have been used to illustrate erectile dysfunction since the guidelines on its treatment was recently announced by the Society of Men’s Health Singapore?

Or were the pictures related to news reports of men falling ill and even dying from taking illegal sex drugs to improve performance?

I bet you never realised there was so much penis-related news lately.

Fortunately, the reason for the penis pictures wasn’t as sordid as all that. They were actually used to explain prostate cancer.

As the prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system, to show what prostate cancer is, you have to show the penis, since it’s the most recognisable part of the male reproductive system.

Hence, the prick pics in the newspapers.

But why the need to explain prostate cancer in the first place?

Because last week, Emeritus Senior Minister and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong posted on Facebook that he was “back home after a successful and uneventful major operation” for prostate cancer.

Coincidentally, Mr Goh had his operation in November, the same month as Movember, the international fundraising campaign to promote men’s health, including fighting prostate cancer.

Movember is also the reason I haven’t shaved in the last 30 days. Since it will be December tomorrow, today is the last day you can donate by going to

See? I told you it’s for a good cause.

I’m all about the cause, about the cause — no stubble.

In another Facebook post, Mr Goh said that after the operation, his only discomfort was that he had not “broken wind” yet.

That was quite an explosive revelation.

Or perhaps the lack of explosiveness was the problem.

I wish someone can explain to me how prostate cancer surgery can cause him not to “break wind”.

If necessary, use a picture of a penis and an asshole.

It’s for a good cause.

And just to be sure... penis, penis penis!

Take that, Straits Times!

- Published in The New Paper, 30 November 2014

Saturday 29 November 2014

How Goh Chok Tong set Gurmit Singh up for life – Lambo or no Lambo

So after 20 years, Gurmit Singh is finally leaving MediaCorp – sort of.

Today reported:
A statement issued by his management said that for next year, Gurmit will take on artiste engagements on “a more selective basis, with MediaCorp’s Artiste Management unit serving as his exclusive agent for commercial engagements”.

Gurmit and I joined then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation about the same time to work on a new live variety show, Live On 5, which he hosted, saying the lines I wrote for him. It was his TV debut (as well as mine, but that's another story).

At the time, his hair was long and mine was very short. Now the reverse is true.

The first time I saw him was on the Live On 5 pilot, which was never aired. His hair was so long he wore a bandanna to hide it. I thought he was a mat rocker.

He was eventually hired as the host on the condition that he cut his hair, which he did.

Another condition was that he changed his name. At that time, "Gurmit" was a very strange name to most Singaporeans. There was concern that people would call him "Kermit" (as in Kermit the Frog) by mistake – or on purpose to make fun of him. (That actually happened later.)

But Gurmit refused to change his name, I think, out of respect for his parents who gave him his name.

SBC hired him anyway, paying him a few hundred dollars per show.

He was then taking a part-time computer course. I remember it was a major decision for him to drop the course and focus on showbiz full-time.

Live On 5 lasted less than a year. I worked on the show and for SBC for only about six months.

But Live On 5 made Gurmit a star.

So he was given a show with his name in the title, Gurmit's World, which was a sketch show, creating a platform for him to show off his ability to play different characters, much like Michelle Chong on The Noose years later (which Gurmit was also on during the first season).

Looking back, I'm not sure whether Gurmit's World can be classified as a success. On the one hand, the show had two seasons and introduced the world to Phua Chu Kang. I remember kids were already quoting the famous line, "Use your blain, use your blain!"

On the other hand, after Gurmit's World ended, Gurmit replaced Moe Alkaff as host of Gotcha.

I remember talking to Gurmit during this period and he told me how humiliated he felt to be hosting the Candid Camera rip-off. It was a demotion to him.

He then starred in the sitcom Can I Help You? (a rip-off of the British sitcom Are You Being Served?), which let's just say was no Under One Roof.

Then came Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd the sitcom in 1997. I suppose the first season did well enough for a second season to be commissioned.

That was when I came in as a scriptwriter. I had previously written for the Twilight Zone rip-off, Shiver, after rejoining then Television Corporation of Singapore in 1997.

The weird thing then was that PCK the show was like an unwanted stepchild. Practically everyone who worked on the first season had left except for two writers who would soon leave too.

So it was just me and another girl who had never written PCK before.

Then the second season of the yuppie sitcom Three Rooms was cancelled before it even went into production. So all the Three Rooms writers joined PCK.

I hated Three Rooms and the show's writers. I remember how they used to look down on PCK and the people working on the show, including me. And now they're part of us.

Most viewers were unlikely to notice, but the first season of Phua Chu Kang was very different from the rest of the series as none of the creative team behind the first season remained.

Besides Chu Beng being played by a different actor, Margaret (played by the magnificent Tan Kheng Hua) was a more sympathetic and grounded character in the first season. From season 2 onwards, Margaret became the show's campy villain.

More importantly, the first season was actually quite restrained in the use of Singlish. In the second season, the new group of writers just went nuts, which eventually led to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong sending PCK for English class.

At the time, we were worried that the Singlish controversy would kill the show, but ironically, I believe it was the controversy that cemented PCK's iconic status and rejuvenated Gurmit's career, setting him up for life.

Gurmit may never play Phua Chu Kang on TV (or in a movie) again, but he can still make decent coin playing the fictional contractor for your next company dinner and dance or other "commercial engagements".

So don't fret for the man. He may have sold his Lamborghini, but he's a long way from living on the streets.

A photo posted by Gurmit (@gurmitgurmit) on

Friday 28 November 2014

I went to Sitex & bought stuff at Robinsons Expo

My Sitex walkthrough yesterday.

It was pretty much the same old, same old.

I left empty-handed and I went to the Robinsons Expo next door.

I was so impressed by the latest technology in knife-holders, I bought this.

I also ate a bowl of $6 prawn mee outside Singapore Expo.

It was a good day.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Whaaa...? An online petition that actually worked?

Charis Mah, the person who started the online petition to "Keep Julien Blanc and Real Social Dynamics (RSD / RSDnation) out of Singapore", posted this update yesterday:

Response from MHA - Success!

Hi all, firstly thank you again to all who have shown your support, and apologies to those who wanted to sign but could not, because I only just realized I set the petition end date for Nov 20! (I have just opened it till the end of the year for the sake of those who want to continue to show their support.)

Secondly: I emailed the Ministry again on 19 Nov after the count surpassed 7,500, and this morning I received the following response from the Ministry of Home Affairs which was CCed to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA):

Dear Ms Mah,
We refer to your email dated 19 November 2014.
2. Blanc has been involved in seminars in various countries that advised men to use highly abusive techniques when dating women. Violence against women or any persons is against Singapore law. The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, in consultation with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, will not allow Mr Blanc into Singapore, especially if he is here to hold seminars or events that propagate violence against women or to participate in other objectionable activities in Singapore.
3. Thank you.
Joyce Tan
Community Partnership & Communications Group
Ministry of Home Affairs

We took a stand and we did it! Thank you everybody!

Last month, I wrote a blog post wondering why people are still starting online petitions when they never seem to achieve their stated objectives.

I brought up these examples:

It's unlikely the Revoke Han Hui Hui's Singapore Citizenship! petition (6,317 signatures) will be successful too.

So how did the Julien Blanc petition succeed when the others failed?

Well, in the first place, the petition doesn't really require anyone to do anything. I mean, it's not like the Government has to cancel Blanc's visa like Australia did.

In the second place, since other countries have also banned the guy, it's not like Singapore is going out on a limb here.

Third, is it really the petition that persuaded the Government to not allow Blanc into Singapore?

With 8,512 signatures, the petition is actually short of its 10,000 target.

Based on Ms Mah's update and the Ministry of Home Affairs reply (which doesn't mention the petition at all), it seems to me that it was Ms Mah's email - not the petition - that persuaded the Government.

Was the petition a factor? Probably.

Would the email have worked without the petition? Possibly.

My point is, this is not evidence that online petitions work, although I'm sure there are people who will take it that it is.

Or perhaps Han Hui Hui should start packing after all. Especially after the latest plagiarism allegations.

EARLIER: Online petitions: Bad news, good news for Han Hui Hui

Sunday 23 November 2014

Have the runs? World Toilet Day not so urgent for Singaporeans

Excuse my language, but it’s for a good cause.

I just got possibly the greatest running event T-shirt ever.

Why? Because it has these words on the back:
“I am running because I give a shit.”
The shirt is the official participant tee for The Urgent Run held at East Coast Park two Sundays ago.

Why is it called The Urgent Run?

Because it’s organised by the World Toilet Organisation. Get it?

One of the many quirks of Singaporeans is that when we want to excuse ourselves to go to the toilet, we like to tell people: “I’m very urgent.”

To a non-Singaporean, this must be a puzzling Singlish phrase, although it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out that “urgent” indicates an “emergency”, as in “I have an emergency. If I don’t go to the toilet immediately, I’m going to relieve myself here right in front of you and nobody wants that.”

As you can see, it’s quicker just to say: “I’m very urgent.”

We Singaporeans are nothing if not efficient in the use of the language. So what if we’re a little ungrammatical?

Other Urgent Runs were also held around the world to mark World Toilet Day on Wednesday. I wonder if anyone in Zanzibar or Manila appreciates the subtle Singaporean humour in calling the event The Urgent Run.

Then again, “urgent” can also mean the urgent need to provide better sanitation for 2.5 billion people who lack access to the basic amenities that Singaporeans take for granted.

Having written about World Toilet Day in this column a year ago, I’m disappointed it hasn’t caught on like selfie sticks and Kim Kardashian’s naked buttocks.

None of the local papers covered World Toilet Day last week, despite Nov 19 being recognised as World Toilet Day by the United Nations (UN) thanks to a resolution tabled by Singapore last year – our first UN resolution!

You know which Singaporean quasi-journalist has written the most about World Toilet Day?

That’s right – I am.

I have become the de facto World Toilet Day correspondent.

This column is likely the first time you’ve read about The Urgent Run even though the event in Singapore took place two weeks ago. No newspaper reported it even though Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say was there to flag off the run.

I got to shake his hand and take a picture with him. He looked young for a 60-year-old.

He even wore the “I am running because I give a shit” shirt – although I’m not sure if he actually ran that morning. In his defence, even if he didn’t run, it doesn’t mean he didn’t give a shit. It’s just a shirt.

The Urgent Run was advertised as 5km, but according to the running app on my phone, the route was only about 4km long.

I guess The Urgent Run was so urgent that it was shortened so that you can get to the toilet sooner.

There were plenty of porta-potties at the finish line in case you get the runs during the run.

And since we were at East Coast Park, there was also the ocean.

By the way, the rock band Foreigner just called. They want their song title back.

The Hello Kitty Run the week before was also advertised as 5km but turned to be only about 4km.

But unlike the Hello Kitty Run, which had 17,000 participants, The Urgent Run had fewer than 400.

That means 42 times more runners cared about the cat with no mouth than about people with no toilets.

Possibly because those people are so far away, and Hello Kitty is, well, on my bedsheet.

Ironically, in Singapore recently, there has been a spate of reports of people defecating in public or letting their kids do so. That’s what World Toilet Day is supposed to prevent!

If only more Singaporeans had supported World Toilet Day...

Perhaps next year.

Meanwhile, I like this idea of running for a cause – but maybe one that hits even closer to home.

Last week, the Public Transport Council announced that it has started its annual fare review exercise, signalling an imminent fare hike, which nobody wants except transport companies and their stockholders.

Also last week, a video showing a four-man relay team running from Little India MRT station to the Farrer Park station to catch a train went viral.

That gave me an idea.

To promote awareness of how much we don’t want another fare hike, we can have a run with relay teams racing against the trains along every MRT line – North South, East West, North East, Circle and Downtown.

That’s only about 162km.

I think we can skip the LRT for the run.

We can call it The Unfare Run.

So instead of running for access to better sanitation in faraway lands, we would be running for access to affordable public transport in our own country.

I already have an idea for possibly the second greatest running event T-shirt ever. On the back, it would say:
“I am running because I can’t afford public transport.”
I didn’t want to use any bad word like on The Urgent Run shirt. So on the front, The Unfare Run shirt would simply say:
Tuck Yew!”
Would you run if I give a shirt?

- Published in The New Paper, 23 November 2014


Urgent Run recap: Lim Swee Say The Giant Toilet Bowl Shooter

If you love Singapore, celebrate World Toilet Day

Thursday 20 November 2014

Evolution of my byline photo (& bad hair)

If you read The New Paper On Sunday, which my column is in, you may notice that the paper has just been redesigned again.

Since I joined The New Paper in 2008, the paper has underwent four redesigns - two for the weekday editions, two for the Sunday edition. Each redesign means all the reporters (and columnists) get new byline photos.

So each redesign brings new hope that I would finally get a non-embarrassing byline photo. Each redesign crushes that hope like you would a cockroach. First world problem.

From 4 May 2008 to 13 July 2008

If not for the smile, I'm okay with this photo since my hair looked neat for once. But this was used for only a couple of months before it was ditched because of a redesign.

From 17 August 2008 to 28 August 2011

I call it the poodle hair photo. Still the stupid smile. Dig the suspenders though.

A few readers who wrote in to complain about the column used my hair against me.

I had to live with this byline photo for three years.

From 11 September 2011 to 9 November 2014

My longest running byline photo. No more smile. Maybe because I had a woman's haircut. One reader called me "Samantha".

I had to live with this byline photo for three years too - plus a couple of months.

From 16 November 2014 to ?

For the latest redesign, the Sunday paper is going with the full-length shot for the byline photo. That made me self-conscious of my posture because I tend to slouch. That's why I was pulling shoulders back so awkwardly. Which resulted in me pushing my stomach forward, making me look fat.

I guess I have to live with this for the next three years until the next redesign.

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

I got a shock this morning when I open the papers, while having my favorite prata at the mama shop @ Bencoolen street.

SPH has changed your photos and other writers too. Damp!! What the hell...!!

I miss the "stupid and blur (fxxx)" look which has been your symbol and personal branding. It synchronizes to some of the "crap" you write in your article, which I really enjoy and look forward for Sundays. I spent 80 cents every Sunday to read Act Blur and to see your blur face :)..

Now, you are looking too studious and academic, Act blur title does not suit well.

Please take this is a compliment and also know there are many fans like me out there for you, each week.

Bring back the old SM Ong.

Keep me alive with your articles, Sir !

Thanks and have a nice day.