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