Monday 30 November 2015

Running the Jubilee Big Walk: I could've been first, but I didn't wear the T-shirt

Why walk when you can run?

My goal for the Jubilee Big Walk yesterday was to be right in front at the starting line so that I could run 5km distance without a mass of slow walkers in my way.

The flag-off was at 7am. About 25,000 participants were expected.

When I took the MRT train at six plus, I saw passengers wearing the Big Walk T-shirt.

Alamak! That meant there were going to be many people ahead of me. I was screwed.

When I reached Dhoby Ghaut, it was raining a little. Because of the drizzle, many people were seeking shelter instead of waiting at the starting line.

That made it easier than expected for me to manoeuvre my way through the sparse crowd to the front.

I couldn't believe I actually did it.

I was in front at the starting line!

Mark Lee was there too. I wanted to take a picture with him, but he was with his daughter (I think) so I didn't want to bother him.

More importantly, I got to see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong make his way to the stage and flag off the walk. I think this was the first time I ever saw the PM in person.

A video posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

I was surprised I seemed to be the only person who decided to run the Big Walk. I was way out in front on my own.

It was surreal to have the empty St Andrew's Road all to myself.

Although I had my number bib on, I made the mistake of not wearing the Big Walk T-shirt. Instead I wore my own sexy Skins sleeveless compression top. So the road marshalls weren't sure if I was a Big Walker especially since I was running (not walking) and alone.

I paid for this mistake at Gardens by the Bay. The road marshalls didn't tell me to turn when they should have and so I kept running straight ahead.

I suspected something was wrong when I stopped seeing any more Big Walk signage. So I tried to double back but got a little lost. It took me a while to finally find my way to the finish line.

I thought I was first to cross the finish line — until someone told me I was second or third, but definitely not first.


So someone else must have run the Big Walk too. I wasted all that time wandering around Gardens by the Bay and let them beat me to the finish line.

If only I had worn the Big Walk T-shirt, it would have been the first time I had come in first in any race (even though the Big Walk is not really a race).

Maybe next year.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Countdown petition showdown: Why I'm terrified of Adam Lambert fans

I have been writing this column since 2008. It was so long ago we were still looking for Mas Selamat.

So it’s inevitable that I have received a few complaints over the years. Just a few.

For example, in 2010, I wrote about SMRT bus commuters being overcharged after the new distance-based fare system was implemented.

I called it a “betrayal of public trust” and added with other-worldly prescience: “Such incompetence has resulted only in minor financial loss, but what if the transport companies are just as inept in the maintenance of vehicles?”

Well, the answer to that question last week was that some students were late for their A-level exams. It stopped being a hypothetical a long time ago.

But the Land Transport Authority (LTA) disagreed with my column, writing in to complain that it was “really not a fair comment”.

I have since written numerous articles about the even more numerous train breakdowns due to the transport companies being inept.

Yet I haven’t heard anything from LTA since 2010. Hmm, I wonder why.

But of all the people who have written in to complain about this column, there is one group I fear even more than LTA.

Adam Lambert fans.

They scare me to death.

In 2013, I wrote about the Media Development Authority giving a Lambert concert in Singapore “an advisory rating for those 16 and above with the consumer advice, ‘some mature content’ as it will feature two songs from Adam Lambert’s audio album, Trespassing – Outlaws Of Love and Shady – whose lyrics are based on the singer’s personal experiences and lifestyle.”

In the column, I wondered what exactly “outlaws of love” were and came up with a few possibilities, such as teachers having sex with their underage students in HDB stairwells.

The Glamberts weren’t amused.

First, they attacked me on Twitter: “That’s gotta be the most bizarre nonsensical shit I’ve ever read.”

And “What kind of sick mind does that jerk have anyway?”

And “Yeah. Ignorant asshat.”

Then they fired their e-mails:
“I’d like to question the research and professionalism put into the writing of this piece...

“Is it talking about the NC16 advisory rating on Adam Lambert’s concert?

“What is the relevance of bringing up the comfort and ‘ergonomic advantages’ of sexual activities in HDB staircases and the author’s ‘own experiments’?

“Also, what is S M Ong trying to say when he writes ‘while a couple may fear being caught having sex in the stairwell (though that may be part of the thrill), it would be far more traumatising for me to chance upon you having sex in the stairwell (especially if I don’t have a camera phone with me)’?

“Is he trying to promote exhibitionism?”

That hurt. I had been called plenty of awful things in my lifetime but never an exhibitionism promoter.

I learnt my lesson, though.

I would never do anything to offend Lambert fans again.

I’ll just stick to offending Clay Aiken fans.

And maybe LTA.

But unfortunately, not everyone has learnt the lesson.

Like the people who created and signed the online “Petition against Adam Lambert performing in Countdown 2016” last week.

The petition said the US singer is “a performer fraught with controversy even in his home country” and is “well-known for his active promotion of a highly sexualised lifestyle and LGBT rights, both of which are contrary to mainstream Singaporean values”.

In other words, he is an outlaw of love. Ahem.

Of course, the Glamberts would retaliate, as I have experienced their wrath first-hand.

Another online petition called “We want Adam Lambert performing in Countdown 2016” was created and so far, it has collected more signatures than the first petition.

I didn’t sign either one because both are wrong.

There is no “Countdown 2016”.

The MediaCorp New Year’s Eve show that Lambert may or may not be performing in is actually called Celebrate 2016.

Up to now, MediaCorp’s only response to the controversy is “Celebrate 2016 will be suitable for family audiences and conform with broadcast regulations,” which basically says nothing at all.

The national broadcaster just can’t seem to catch a break with its New Year’s Eve show.

Two New Year’s Eves ago, the show was lambasted for being too “cheena” by theatre doyen Ivan Heng, who is married to another man.

So a show that was once criticised by an openly gay man for not being diverse enough is now being criticised for being perhaps a little too diverse by having an openly gay man on the show.

MediaCorp just can’t win.

For now, it seems that Lambert is still set to perform in Celebrate 2016 (not Countdown 2016). Glamberts, rejoice!

Heaven forbid anyone accuses MediaCorp of promoting exhibitionism.

I’ve been there.

No one likes getting complaints.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 November 2015

Friday 27 November 2015

Mee Pok Man's 20th anniversary: How I ended up in Eric Khoo's first feature film

The Singapore International Film Festival is screening Mee Pok Man this Sunday at the National Museum to celebrate the film's 20th anniversary.

If you're going to see it, just be warned that I'm in the movie.

At least, I've been told I make a brief appearance. I have never seen the movie myself.

How did I end up in Eric Khoo's debut feature?

Back in early 1994, I was the research writer for Channel 5 variety show called Live On 5 hosted by a newcomer named Gurmit Singh. The show had a movie review segment in which I would review a movie with a guest reviewer.

I gained some minor notoriety as "Smong", the movie critic "everyone loved to hate".

For one episode, I invited Khoo to be the guest reviewer and that was how we got to know each other. At that point, he had won a couple awards for his short films.

Later, when he was working on Mee Pok Man, he called me and said he had a small role for me.

So one day, I showed up at Goodwood Park Hotel, owned by the Khoo family, to shoot a scene with some guy named Ong Lay Jinn, who would later become a filmmaker himself under the name Djinn. But at that time, I think he was working for the Economic Development Board.

He struck me as an entitled rich-kid scholar, so it was mutual dislike at first sight.

(By the way, another local film-maker, Cheah Chee Kong, later also gave himself the name CheeK. I can't help feeling that "CheeK" and "Djinn" were just copying my "Smong" with the abbreviated name.)

Anyway, for Khoo's film, Ong and I were supposed to act like we were on some sort of TV current affairs programme, discussing the issue of poverty. I played the heel (which I had had some experience) and said something like we should kill the poor or something like that. It was two decades ago.

There was no script. We just improvised for a few minutes.

Khoo seemed happy with what we did. After we were done, the director paid me with a fish-and-chips meal from the hotel kitchen.

And that was how I ended up preserved for posterity on celluloid.

(I was invited to the movie wrap party on Emerald Hill, but I couldn't find the place. I would meet Michelle Goh only a couple of years later at MediaCorp.)

I'm told I appear in the film for a few seconds on a TV screen. Maybe one day before I die, I'll see it.

Here is a 2005 Nutshell review of Mee Pok Man (I'm copying and pasting it here because it mentions me):
This is probably the movie credited with sparking a comeback of Singapore films, and watching it, you can probably spot various influences this Eric Khoo film had on the other more contemporary attempts by the various local filmmakers like Djinn and Jack Neo (whom of course, were in Eric Khoo movies).

Joe Ng (of local band Padres) front the cast as the title character, and Michelle Goh, in her debut, stars as Bunny, the prostitute he is infatuated with. Being a dim witted noodle seller, he's naturally shy and worships her from afar, as she's one of the regulars at the coffeeshop where his shop is at. Bunny, on the other hand, thinks lowly of the mee pok seller, and in your usual SPG character, goes for the ang-mo Jonathan, some sleazy photographer played by David Brazil.

The storyline's pretty basic, and you might think that at the point when Bunny became a victim of a hit-and-run, that the plot might pick up. Actually it sort of went downhill from there, as the mee pok man carries her injured body off to his home to care for her, to be with her. Alas, you should know what happens without proper medical attention.

Towards the end of the film, it drags with mee pok's man soliloquay, and Bunny didn't have much to do except be there to complete the scene. Somehow with the forced dialogue, it lengthened a scene which should have been shortened to improve the pace, which was quite erratic throughout the movie.

In its day, the language might have the audience taken aback, with characters mouthing off profanities in different dialects. But like I mentioned, it probably had made others sit up and notice that perhaps local movies should feature swearing to give it more street cred? Something else which stood out - while featuring many languages in the movie mirrors our multi-racial / multi-language society, having characters converse in different dialects (like the Fortune Teller scene) sometimes doesn't cut it too realistically.

Another point of controversy at its time was the nudity, or perceived nudity. The opening credits had still shots of a boob, butt and the female pubic region. You might wonder if it's necessary actually - doesn't really serve any purpose or facilitate the plot. Or the fact that Jonathan shoots nude photos. Given today, it'll probably be glossed over without much thought, and given an NC-16 rating.

Characterisation called for attention, as the main characters Bunny and Mee Pok man didn't really have much of a motive, the former seeking inner peace and to leave Singapore, the latter just wanting to be with her until the morbid end. Other characters, like Lim Kay Tong's Mike Kor the Pimp, was stereotyped, as are many of the minor characters in the movie. Cameos were plenty too, like X'Ho, Djinn, S.M.Ong etc.

But I still reckon it's a pretty decent first effort, and marked improvement can already be seen in 12 Storeys. While awaiting eagerly for Eric Khoo's latest offering Be With Me, this movie would allow you to appreciate how much things had changed for the better.

More than 10 years after Mee Pok Man, I would have another cameo in Phua Chu Kang The Movie, but that's another story.

EARLIER: The last time I met Eric Khoo

Sunday 22 November 2015

My French connection & was Baey Yam Keng wrong to post Eiffel Tower photo?

Blame it on my bae.

Okay, technically, Mr Baey Yam Keng is not “my” bae since he is an MP for Tampines GRC and I live in Yew Tee.

And I’m not so cray cray as to call someone my “bae” just because I went on one date with him a few months ago. Okay, it wasn’t really a date but a romantic run around Marina Baey, I mean Bae, I mean Bay. Why am I blushing?

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

Uh, what was I talking about?

Oh yah, blame it on Mr Baey.

As a tribute to Paris after the Nov 13 terror attacks, I had intended today’s column to be about my visit to the city in 2000.

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

In the French capital for only a day, I made the mistake of choosing to walk from the Arc de Triomphe to the Musée du Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.

Strolling along Avenue des Champs-Élysées, I understood why Paris had been called one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

But the walk took so long that by the time I reached the museum, it was closed for the day.

So no Mona Lisa for me.

My consolation is that I would later read about Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous painting in The Da Vinci Code. Who knew the star of Titanic and Inception could paint too.

That was just a tantalising taste of what this column could’ve been if not for Mr Baey.

Last Sunday, in his tribute to Paris, Mr Baey posted online a photo of himself next to the Eiffel Tower with the caption:
I was in Paris in May as part of President Tony Tan's state visit delegation. It is such a beautiful city with a rich culture.

The recent multiple attacks by gunmen and perpetrators with explosives resulted in many innocent lives lost. My heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones.

Such planned acts are mindless but very real. This is a common security challenge that many countries, including Singapore, face in the world today. There is a need for constant vigilance and no place for complacency.

Which all seems pretty innocuous until website called out the photo for looking like it had been Photoshopped.

This led to an online backlash against Mr Baey with jokers (like myself) Photoshopping him into photos of other famous international landmarks.

Two years ago, another website, New Nation, had alleged that a newspaper photo showing some errant cyclists on the road had been Photoshopped.

The website later apologised after The New Paper photographer proved that the photo was real.

The people behind New Nation went on to create and are now alleging that Mr Baey’s photo is Photoshopped.

The MP has since posted another photo of him next to the Eiffel Tower to show that the first photo was real, but so far, no apology seems forthcoming.

To call the Sultan of Selfies vain and narcissistic is one thing, but to accuse Mr Baey of deceitfully inserting himself into the photo in the context of such a horrific tragedy is to suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth suffers from a pathological condition far more disturbing than mere vainglory.

I do, however, concede that photo looks awfully like it was Photoshopped even if it wasn’t.

But the controversy has also evolved such that it’s no longer just about whether the photo is real.

Even if it wasn’t Photoshopped, was it appropriate for Mr Baey to post the photo in the first place?

Why did he have to make the Paris tragedy about himself?

The former public relations company director appears to agree with the naysayers as he later posted yet another photo of the Eiffel Tower — but this time without him in it.

The last photo I posted had attracted much attention. I regret that it has distracted the message on the global challenges we face today. Besides the utter senselessness and disregard for humanity, the attacks meant something more to me as I was just in Paris six months ago. I had wanted to provide a personal connection to my thoughts beyond text and decided to re-post a photo I uploaded then. The photo was taken with a timer when I was having a rest during my morning run and I was able to chance upon this interesting perspective with the Eiffel Tower. I appreciate the frank comments by many and I do respect the views expressed. On hindsight, I could have been more mindful about the choice of photo. I would also like to thank those who gave me words of encouragement, both in public and private messages. I have chosen to be active on social media as it helps me connect with people and learn from others. This is an on-going journey that I am committed to. Thank you for your understanding and support.
A photo posted by Baey Yam Keng 马炎庆 (@baeyyamkeng) on

Knowing how much he likes posting pictures of himself, I imagine doing that must have gone against every instinct in his lean body.

But it may still be not enough.

Why just a photo of the Eiffel Tower?

Why not also a photo of the Nejmeh Square clock tower in Beirut, where many were killed in a terror attack just a day before the Paris attacks?

Is not having been there a good enough reason?

Should I feel guilty about using a French flag overlay on my Facebook profile picture and not a Lebanese flag?

Well, Ms Ho Ching (that’s right, the Prime Minister’s wife) says no.

On her Facebook page, she wrote:
Millions and tens of millions of people from around the world have been to Paris, and love the time they spent there - the sunny serenity, the history, the food, the people, the culture, the cafe and the walk around.

Many millions around the world would have friends or people they know working or living in Paris.

And so it is natural that they are shocked by the terrorist attacks - it is a city where they have had wonderful memories, or have friends or colleagues, and may have visited repeatedly for work or leisure.

Many millions more would be tracking their loved ones, friends and colleagues, who may be there, or going there.

So it is natural that phone lines, emails and social media lit up as people around the world would try to check immediately if their families, friends or colleagues may be in Paris or they are safe in Paris.

Much much fewer visitors have been to Lebanon, or for that matter, to Ankara in Turkey, Urumqi in China, or Nigeria, so fewer people have memories of these places or people. At any one time, the number of visitors would be several orders of magnitude less with fewer dots to connect to the rest of the world.

Hence, news of terrorist attacks there don't evoke the same sense of shock or personal responses.

So even as we say our prayers for the victims of senseless killings, or pause to send our condolences to the families of the victims of terrorist murderers, we must know this is not about whether Parisien lives are worth more than others.

Still, to be safe, I’ve added the gay pride rainbow filter to the French flag on my Facebook photo, so I now have an exceptionally colourful profile picture.

And because I’m so afraid to get whacked like Mr Baey, this column is no longer about my poorly planned trip to Paris 15 years ago.

Instead of blaming him, perhaps I should thank him for saving me from myself. I wonder what kind of flowers he would like.

It’s sad that instead of condemning the killings, we seem more interested in condemning each other for how we respond to the killings.

In a way, we have indeed let the terrorists win.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 November 2015

Sunday 15 November 2015

O is for 'over': Giving O levels the finger

Dear fellow parents of students taking O levels this year,

High five!

It’s over. It’s finally over.

I can’t feel my face after the last paper on Friday, but I love it.

But I love it.

We should go to Zouk before it moves to Clarke Quay, get drunk and vomit on the toilet aunty to celebrate.

And I know she’ll be the death of me. At least we’ll both be numb.

Of course, the O levels weren’t just stressful for us parents. The kids did their part too.

They were the ones who actually had to take the exam, the poor things.

We just had to pay for their private tuition.

For all the money I spent on my children’s tuition, I could almost afford an Uber ride during surge pricing.


My son took his O levels two years ago. This year, it’s my daughter’s turn.

But it’s worth it.

I mean, sending them for tuition is better than doing nothing, right?

It’s for the kids. For their future.

So what if it meant making their present hell?

As if their kiasu schools weren’t sucking the soul out of them enough by giving them so much homework, we kiasu parents were vacuuming whatever soul they have left by making them go for tuition as well.

But the stress is only temporary.

The O level results will be forever.

At what cost, though? (Apart from the private tuition fees.)

My daughter is possibly more relieved than I am that the deed is done for better or for worse — although “relieved” may not be the right word.

She said that after taking her last paper, she and her friends walked out of their school and pointed their middle finger at it.

I don’t know where she learned such a rude gesture.

She certainly didn’t learn it from me since I have never given anyone the finger in my life.

I give only the thumbs up.

And the Vulcan “live long and prosper” salute from Star Trek.

And maybe throw the occasional horns as tribute to the late great Ronnie James Dio, lead singer of Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio.

But never the middle finger.

So I can’t say I approve of such behaviour from my daughter, but I can empathise.

I hated school at her age too.

The thing is, I don’t think it even matters what school it is.

Remember four years ago when we were so stressed about PSLE?

All that because we want our kids get into the best secondary school possible.

My daughter actually got into her first-choice school.

Now, four years later, she’s giving that first-choice school the finger.

Honestly, why did we even bother?

Same with the O levels — they are just to help you get into a junior college or polytechnic.

My guess is that if my daughter ends up in either one of those, in a couple of years or so, she’ll probably give that institution the finger too.

What I’ve come to realise is that the real reason we try to get our children into the best school is not so much to give them the best education, but to ensure that they have higher-calibre friends.

Hopefully, friends who don’t teach them to flip the bird since, as I’ve established earlier, my daughter certainly didn’t learn it from me.

On the one hand, the finger my daughter gave her school could be seen as an indictment of our whole education system and the damage it does to our children.

On the other hand, it’s also like Daniel Craig saying he’d rather “slash his wrist” than do another James Bond movie after Spectre.

They just needed to blow off some steam, but when the time comes, I trust they’ll do the right thing.

In Craig’s case, it’s playing 007 again.

In my daughter’s case, it’s A levels.

Or else.

Speaking of which, my son still has more than a week to go for his A-level exams.

So, dear parents of students taking A levels now, you can expect another invitation from me to go puke on the Zouk toilet aunty soon.

She told me: “Don’t worry about it.”

She told me: “Don’t worry no more.”

- Published in The New Paper, 15 November 2015

Sunday 8 November 2015

No haze: Today, China-Taiwan summit; tomorrow, Taylor Swift-Katy Perry

Just when you think the haze is finally gone, air pollution of a different kind made the news.

Livestock flatulence.

Last month, something called The Aviation Herald reported that a Singapore Airlines cargo flight had to be diverted because of “exhaust gasses and manure” produced by the 2,186 sheep on board.

The Boeing 747-400 freighter was flying from Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur when the four-member crew received a smoke indication.

The plane was diverted to Denpasar International Airport in Bali for a safe landing. Emergency services did not find any trace of fire, heat or smoke.

The smoke indication was identified to be the result of the gas emitted by the aforementioned sheep.

Oh, sure, blame the innocent creatures. What about the four-member crew? Don’t humans fart, too?

Isn’t it just like homo sapiens to make the sheep the scapegoat?

Well, it is the year of the scapegoat.

SIA has since refuted the report, saying the cause of the smoke indication on the plane is “an assumption being made by media, which is not able to be confirmed”.

Gee, thanks for clearing the air.

Speaking of the haze, it cleared just in time for people to queue overnight for the new Hello Kitty toy at McDonald’s last week.

No? It’s not Hello Kitty?

Is the iPhone 7 out already? Wow, Apple really accelerated its product cycle.

No? Uh… K-pop concert tickets?

Did Mr Lee Kuan Yew die again?

Actually, the long queues were for the Balmain x H&M collection launched in Singapore on Thursday.


And it’s not even free stuff. A simple wool hat costs $24.90.

You better buy one since we all know how cold the winter can get in Singapore.

Come on, Singapore! Can’t we go back to queueing for something more meaningful?

Like Minion toys.

What a waste of blue skies.

You would think that after months of avoiding going outside because of the haze, we would better appreciate the freedom that clean air gives us and make better use of it.

Instead of standing in line, you could have been taking part in The Urgent Run yesterday at East Coast Park.

Organised by the World Toilet Organisation, the event aims to raise awareness for the need of proper toilets around the world.

You don’t want to be like the sheep on the plane, producing “exhaust gasses and manure” in the cargo bay.

The skies also cleared up in time for the arrival of a very important foreigner in Singapore.

No, not Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Or Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou.

Of course, it’s Taylor Swift.

She performed last night at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and will do so again tonight.

We’re all cray cray for Tay Tay.

Some even suspect that the two presidents chose Singapore for their historic meeting this weekend because the Blank Space singer would be here at the same time.

Sixty-six years of bad blood between China and Taiwan? As Swift would say, shake it off.

In your wildest dreams.

Come to think of it, if Singapore can be the venue for such a high-level tête-à-tête between two bitter long-time political rivals, perhaps we can also host a summit between Swift and everyone she has ever “feuded” with.

Like Katy Perry, who just beat Swift to become this year’s highest paid woman in music, according to Forbes magazine.

Swift said in an interview last year:
“For years, I was never sure if we were friends or not. She would come up to me at award shows and say something and walk away, and I would think, ‘Are we friends, or did she just give me the harshest insult of my life?’

“(Then) she did something so horrible. I was like, ‘Oh, we’re just straight-up enemies.’”
So Perry is clearly not a member of Swift’s squad.

Neither is Nicki Minaj, although she and Swift appeared to have made up at the MTV Video Music Awards after their overblown Twitter spat.

But there's still Miley Cyrus. And Avril Lavigne? Maybe... Madonna?

Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes or snarky sub-tweets.

Imagine all of them coming to Singapore for “peace talks” with Swift. It could be more tense than the China-Taiwan summit.

Our city-state could end up in flames like the explosive climax of Swift’s Bad Blood video.

Talk about fireworks.

And after we just made it through the haze, too.

But it probably still wouldn’t be as bad as 2,186 sheep farts.

- Published in The New Paper, 8 November 2015