Sunday 31 January 2016

What the duck: How 'duckweed' became the word of the weed, I mean, week

Warning: Duck clouds ahead.

Who is Mr Low Thia Khiang’s least favourite Disney character?

Donald Duckweed.

What is Mr Chan Chun Sing’s least favourite dish in a Chinese restaurant?

Peking Duckweed.

What is his least favourite dish in a French restaurant?

Duckweed confit.

What is Mr Daniel Goh’s least favourite Oscar-winning movie?

Zero Duckweed Thirty.

What is Willie Nelson’s favourite bath toy?

His rubber duckie weed.

These are duck times indeed.

It all started on Wednesday in Parliament.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:
“I intend to amend the constitution during this term to give NCMPs the same voting rights as constituency MPs...

“They will be equal in powers although not in responsibility and scope to constituency MPs because they are non-constituency and they do not have specific voters to look after. But there is no reason at all to perceive NCMPs as second class.”

NCMPs GIVEN EQUAL VOTING RIGHTS: "There will be no reason at all to perceive NCMPs as second-class" says PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

He added he would “also increase the number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, in this House from the next General Election” from nine to 12.
“But regardless of election outcomes, the NCMP scheme ensures a stronger opposition presence in Parliament, so that if the Government wins overwhelming, nationwide support, it will still have to argue for and defend its policies robustly.”

But for opposition leader and Workers’ Party (WP) chief, Mr Low, the Non-Constituency MP scheme isn’t all it’s quacked up to be.

He said in an interview:
“NCMP is just duckweed on the water of a pond. You don’t have roots unlike elected MPs where you have a constituency, run a town council, and you get close in touch with your residents. You can sink roots there.”

And from that one statement, “duckweed” became the word of the week, spreading like, uh, weeds.

Feathers were ruffled in Parliament as People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs cried fowl over Mr Low’s botanical analogy.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam said that NCMPs are not like duckweed as they can also contribute to parliamentary debates and grassroots work. “Grassroots”, get it?

Mr Edwin Tong said: “Now, suggesting that the NCMPs create duckweeds, I don’t think that’s true. As the member Rahayu mentioned earlier, you really make what you will of it yourself.”

Government Whip Chan Chun Sing said:
“In response to Mr Low’s earlier point, I will be the first to say that if any of my PAP MPs dare call the NCMPs second-class citizens, I as the Whip will put them in their place.

“But on the other hand, please do not call them ‘duckweeds’ because even in a pond, the duckweeds have a purpose. Let us respect each other. Let us respect the different roles that we play in this House, be it MPs, NCMPs or NMPs.”

"Even in a pond, the duckweed has a purpose": Chan Chun Sing on Low Thia Khiang's analogy for NCMPs. He says as Party...
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016

A backdrop to all this is that WP had earlier filed a motion for Mr Daniel Goh to take the NCMP seat rejected by Ms Lee Li Lian.

On Friday in Parliament, Mr Chan took the aquatic flora drama to the next level by adding to the motion an amendment that says:
“But regrets that Ms Lee Li Lian having stood as a Workers’ Party candidate and received the highest vote share among all losing opposition candidates, has now decided to give up her NCMP seat to another candidate from her Party with a lower vote share, contrary to the expressed will of the voters.

“And that the Workers’ Party supports this political manoeuvre to take full advantage of the NCMP seat, even as its secretary-general criticises NCMPs as just duckweed on the water of the pond.”

Chan Chun Sing files amendment to motion to fill third NCMP seat in Parliament. The amendment acknowledges The Workers'...
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016

The motion was passed with WP abstaining from voting on its own motion.

It just quacks me up that somewhere in our Government, there is a formal legal document with the word “duckweed” in it.

As for Mr Goh, who is now an NCMP thanks to what we shall call the Duckweed Motion, he seems to have pretty much accepted being “duckweed Goh”.

On his Facebook page, he wrote:
“If my country sees fit that I contribute as duckweed, then it is my honour to be duckweed Goh. It is no insult; it is a privilege.”
I guess you can say he is taking it like it’s water off a duck’s back.

I was first notified of the NCMP motion passing when a good friend texted me, while I was washing dishes after dinner, “...
Posted by Daniel Goh 吴佩松 on Friday, January 29, 2016

Duckweed is so hot now that even Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan waddled onto the bandwagon.

Speaking in Parliament on Friday about improving rail reliability being his top priority, Mr Khaw said:
“You just look at me, look at my hair. I think it’s in a mess of maybe duckweed, multiple colours, you know. I promised my wife that I will make time to go and dye it before Chinese New Year.”
Hey, at least no one’s calling him duckweed Khaw.


- Published in The New Paper, 31 January 2016

Thursday 28 January 2016

New MP Darryl David can speak Chinese but wants new citizens to speak English

When ex-Mediacorp colleague Darryl David was first introduced as a PAP candidate last August, he talked about the importance of speaking Chinese to connect with residents.

To quote:
"I realised that to connect with these residents, it's important to be comfortable with the language, speaking in English and speaking in dialect. My mother is actually Teochew. So I'm comfortable with Mandarin and with Hokkien because my grandma is Hokkien."

When asked if Darryl David could communicate with Chinese residents, here is what he said this morning at the press...

Posted by People's Action Party on Saturday, August 15, 2015

So I find it ironic that on Tuesday, in his first speech as an MP in Parliament, he talked about how important for new citizens to learn to speak English.

To quote:

"At a community event welcoming new citizens last year, I observed that there were quite a few new citizens who had trouble communicating because of their inability to speak basic English.

"Grassroots leaders have also provided feedback: Some of the new citizens tend to not get involved in community events and activities because they feel that they aren’t able to communicate with their fellow residents of different ethnicities."

He went on to propose that "we can make it mandatory for potential new citizens to attain a basic level of English-language proficiency before they're given Singaporean citizenship".

So to be a PAP candidate, you must be able to speak Chinese.

But to be a new citizen, you have to speak English.

Double standard much?

EARLIER: If Darryl David can be an MP, why not other TV game show hosts?

Sunday 24 January 2016

Rock 'n' roll is dead, 'cool uncle' Kevin Mathews retires, ageism lives

Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver.

Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.

Natalie Cole.

David Bowie.

Drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin of Mott The Hoople.

Glenn Frey of The Eagles.

Animal of Dr Teeth And The Electric Mayhem.

No, not Animal!

News of the manic drummer’s death last week was the biggest shock of all. He was reportedly only 66.

His last movie appearance was in Muppets: Most Wanted in 2014.

Co-star Fozzy Bear was quoted in the Waterford Whispers News as saying: “Although he had already been diagnosed with threadbaring syndrome, you would have never known he was sick.”

Animal’s death was also shocking because he was a Muppet.

I didn’t know Muppets can die.

I’m beginning to question the trustworthiness of this Waterford Whispers News.

But since it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

Still, as shocking as Animal’s passing was, after learning the news, I didn’t go to the toilet and cry.

Which was what local musician Kevin Mathews did after finding out about Bowie’s death two weeks ago.

Mathews, who is also a poly lecturer, told Yahoo! News: “I was teaching a class so I couldn’t react. The moment I got a break, I went to the toilet for a good cry.”

This is a 54-year-old man we’re talking about.

And he was bawling like a pubescent fan girl over Zayn Malik leaving One Direction.

Coincidentally (or not?), nine days after Bowie’s death, Mathews announced his retirement from performing and recording.

To explain his decision, the singer-songwriter, who had a big local hit with the ballad My One And Only as Watchmen in the early 90s, wrote in his blog:
“Since the late 80s, there have been numerous pronouncements of the death of rock ‘n’ roll. Each time, the prophets of doom have been proven wrong – the 1990s with the rise of Nirvana and the 2000s with the Strokes and the post-punk revival.

“I sincerely fear that 2016 might be the year that time is called on the former institution known as rock ‘n’ roll.

“Perhaps it is the death of David Bowie that has depressed me to such an extent that this doomsday scenario now becomes a reality.”
So according to Mathews, rock is dead. I blame Justin Bieber and tropical house.

Mathews also pointed to the lack of bands playing rock ‘n’ roll at the upcoming Laneway Festival on Saturday.

He wrote:
“This realisation has also aided in my decision to quit as a solo performer, whether live or in the studio – and focus on other aspects in my life.

“My main pre-occupation in music will be as a journalist and hopefully, as a curator and mentor. That is the only way I can see myself making a contribution.

“My music as a solo artist has no fucking significance whatsoever. Time to move on then.”
But the former lawyer also cited other factors that led to his decision in his heartbreaking Tumblr post:
“In the last three years, I have recorded and released two albums and one EP, which have been received with the law of diminishing returns.

“And even though I personally felt that Present Sense (the album I released last year) was the best I have ever done, the response has been abysmal — the worst ever experienced as a recording artist.

“In addition, the shows that I had put together to promote the album were also poorly attended.

“Not only that but when I tried to get the support of The Esplanade to support the album, they did not have any spot for me!

“Now, let that sink in — even The Esplanade — where every Tom, Dick and Harry has a chance to perform - were not interested to have me perform!

“I must admit that that really hurt.”
Well then, maybe he should form a band called Every Tom, Dick And Harry.

But as Mathews revealed, the ultimate career killer isn’t The Esplanade but ageism:
“When I reflect on this decision, I can see that it all started with a review of The Fast Colors’ performance where the reviewer described us as cool uncles that she wanted to kick out of the cool kids party.

“That ageist comment stung at the time, but I felt that it wasn’t true. Well, now I do believe that it’s time for this ‘cool uncle’ to leave the party once and for all.”
So basically, he’s retiring because someone called him “uncle” and it wasn’t his niece or nephew.

As someone turning 50 this year, I can relate. Next stop, “ah pek”-dom.

Ironically, Mathews’ hero, Bowie, who died of cancer at 69, worked right till the very end. Released two days before his passing, his new album Blackstar is topping the charts around the world.

Even in death, Bowie has a No. 1 hit.

I wonder if anyone ever called him “uncle”.

Death is said to be the great leveller, but clearly, some rock stars are more “level” than others.

Animal lives!

- Published in The New Paper, 24 January 2016

Sunday 17 January 2016

A tip for parents accompanying their children to collect O-level results

The O-level results came out on Monday.

I can empathise with all you students and parents waiting for those results.

I got my results over three decades ago and I have yet to fully recover from the emotional trauma.

More recently — two years ago to be exact — I accompanied my son to his secondary school to collect his O-level results.

We were naturally quite anxious to find out how badly he did in the exams.

But before we could get the results, we, along with the other students and parents waiting in the school hall, had to suffer through seemingly interminable slideshows presented by the school.

The first presentation was about the Joint Admission Exercise (JAE) conducted by the Ministry of Education for students to apply for admission to schools after O levels.

Next, the principal talked about how well the school did in the O levels relative to previous years and all the other schools in the country — subject by subject.

This just went on and on.

Then it was time to give out the results. Finally!

But before the results were released to everyone, the results were first given to the school’s top students — individually.

So we were forced to wait as one by one, the name of each top student was announced and he or she would scamper onto the stage to shake hands with the principal and get their picture taken.

This went on like forever.

The school seemed to have an infinite number of students who scored a gazillion distinctions in the O levels — and yet my son wasn’t among that infinite number. Not that we expected him to be.

Why was the school doing this?

Why was the school torturing us with this endless ceremony?

Why was the school prolonging our agony by delaying the release of the results?

Wasn’t the school aware of the majority of less stellar students and their parents right there in the school hall waiting anxiously to find out if all that time and money spent on private tuition was a waste of time and money?

Why should we care about these other freakishly overachieving students who aced the O levels?

Were we supposed to be happy for them?

Were we supposed to applaud their success at taking away the places in the schools that we could be applying for?

By highlighting their accomplishment, the school was only underscoring our failure.

Eventually, the name-calling and photo-taking ended and it was time to distribute the results to the rest of us plebs.

My son got 16 points for his L1R5, which was a pleasant surprise considering he barely studied for his O levels.

Two years later, I had to go through it all over again.

On Monday, I accompanied my daughter to her secondary school to collect her O-level results.

But I had learnt my lesson.

Having gone through what I went through two years earlier at my son’s school, I decided we should go a little late to avoid the presentations, but alas, we weren’t tardy enough.

We still had to sit through part of the presentation about the JAE.

Next, the principal talked about how well the school did in the O levels relative to previous years and all the other schools in the country — subject by subject.

This just went on and on.

Then one by one, the name of each of the school’s top students was announced and he or she would scamper onto the stage to shake hands with the principal and get their picture taken.

Wait, that second name sounded familiar.

Isn’t that my daughter?

I was taken aback to see my second-born scampering onto the stage to shake hands with the principal and get their picture taken.

What was this strange sensation coming over me? Could I actually be feeling proud of my child? How gauche.

So this was what it’s like to be a parent of one of those freakishly overachieving students.

I no longer minded that the ceremony was going on like forever. I already knew that my daughter kicked ass in the O levels.

Oh, so your kid wasn’t good enough to have his or her name called and go on stage?

Who asked you to be such a failure as a parent?

You’ll just have to wait a little longer for the results like the rest of the plebs.

That’s not me saying it. It’s the school.

Now that I have survived it twice, here’s my tip to parents accompanying their children to collect their O-level results — go late.

And it helps if your child is a freakish overachiever.

- Published in The New Paper, 17 January 2016

Monday 11 January 2016

Sex, drugs (lots of drugs) & rock 'n' roll: Netflix & MDA way too chill?

“Start your free month.”

Like a drug dealer offering a free sample of his product, the button on the Netflix website beckons me to click it.

The US streaming service Netflix was launched last week in more than 130 countries, including Singapore.

Out of curiosity, I went to the Netflix website on Friday to see what it looked like.

Right up front, the button enticed me with a month of free streaming.

And that is how they hook you.

Believing I could quit any time, I clicked on the button and then was asked to “choose the plan that’s right for you”.

The price plans after my free month ends are $10.98 a month for the basic plan, $13.98 for standard and $16.98 for premium.

My plan was to cancel my subscription just before my free month is up and pay $0.

For my plan to work, I must not forget to cancel.

Otherwise, I would look more despondent than the army recruit in the photo posted on Facebook by the Basic Military Training Centre that went viral last week.

After giving Netflix access to my PayPal account and my soul, I was asked to create my four-digit “parental control” PIN, which I would need to enter to watch R21 shows.

After going through a couple more screens, I was eventually asked to choose three from a selection of 78 titles to help Netflix recommend shows for me to watch.

The first thing that caught my eye was something called Hot Girls Wanted.

Why did it catch my eye? Because it’s something called Hot Girls Wanted.

It turns out to be an R21 documentary about the exploitation of women in the US amateur porn industry, but still.

Next, I picked an R21 TV series starring a hot-looking Mary-Louise Parker called Weeds, in which “following her husband’s untimely death, suburban mum Nancy Botwin goes into business selling marijuana to her friends and neighbours”.

To complete my unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, my third and final pick was Keith Richards: Under The Influence, a PG13 documentary about the debauched Rolling Stones guitarist.

Am I really allowed to do this in Singapore? I feel like I was getting away with something I shouldn’t.

After all, this is the country that has finally allowed Madonna to perform here now that she’s a nostalgia act, but the Media Development Authority (MDA) still gave her Feb 28 National Stadium concert an R18 rating for “sexually suggestive content” and banned her from performing the song Holy Water because of its “religiously sensitive content”.

The song contains the line: “Yeezus loves my pussy best.”

Last year, MDA said it was “working with Netflix to familiarise them with Singapore’s regulations and media capabilities ahead of their arrival”.

Earlier, Apple and Google launched their movie buying and rental services in Singapore but were caught offering R21 rated titles, such as Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to local users. R21 titles are meant for theatrical and not home video release. Both companies have since removed R21 titles from their service and are working with the MDA on classifying its content.

But now that Netflix has arrived, what I discovered is that as long as I remember my PIN, I have access to a trove of grown-up entertainment that could give even a Rolling Stone satisfaction.

Which makes me wonder how good a job MDA did to “familiarise” Netflix with Singapore’s regulations.

Is a four-digit PIN enough to keep children out?

My 16-year-old daughter is tech-savvy enough to find a live stream of the New Year’s Day special episode of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch that let her watch the show in Singapore as it was being telecast on BBC One in Britain!

So if she really wants to watch the suburbanites on Weeds pass the joint, I suspect neither MDA nor I can stop her — Netflix or no Netflix.

When I finally made it to the Netflix home screen, the first show I chose to watch was Weeds.

In the first episode alone, there are scenes about packing drugs, selling drugs, using drugs, gay sex and underage sex. And the drug dealer is the heroine.

Never mind the prison lesbian sex on Orange Is The New Black (R21), there seems to be a show on Netflix about every kind of illicit drug.

For marijuana, you have the aforementioned Weeds and That '70s Show (NC16). For cocaine, Narcos (M18) and Pablo Escobar: El Patron Del Mal (M18). For meth, the almighty Breaking Bad (M18). I’m getting a contact high just by typing those titles.

It’s going to take me more than a month to binge-watch all these uncensored shows.

I think I’ll pay for just one month after my free month is up — but only one.

And then I’ll stop. I promise.

It’s not like I’m an addict or anything.

- Published in The New Paper, 10 January 2016

Sunday 3 January 2016

Too creative v uncreative: Why Eunoia JC is a worse name than 1Sengkang Mall

Last Sunday in my final column of 2015, writing in defence of Compass Point’s new name, I said:
“Who could’ve guessed that in a year when teen troll Amos Yee falsely accused his bailor of molesting him and Mediacorp executive Sharon Au played Mrs Lee Kuan Yew (badly) in The LKY Musical, the biggest scandal of 2015 would be the renaming of a shopping centre?”

That was on Dec 27.

Once again, I spoke too soon. There were still four more days left in 2015.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said US baseball legend Yogi Berra, who died recently in September.

Or as UK heavy metal legend Lemmy Kilmister, who died last week, would put it: “Killed by death.”

Who could’ve guessed that in those remaining four days, an even bigger scandal would rock the nation right down to its flip-flops, surpassing the outrage over 1 Sengkang Mall?

Coming in just under the wire, the most explosive scandal of 2015 turned out not to be the renaming of a shopping centre — but the naming of a junior college.

Ground zero was Acting Minister for Education Ng Chee Meng announcing on Tuesday that a new junior college will be named Eunoia Junior College.

He said that the name “Eunoia” has Greek origins and means “beautiful thinking” and “goodwill towards others”.

Future historians will look back on this as the announcement that launched a thousand puns — “you know, ya”, “pneumonia”, “Yoshinoya”, “Little Nonya”, et al.

Even The Straits Times said Eunoia is a name that will surely annoy ya and sounds like an awkward cross between “urine” and “ammonia”.

Cramming all the vowels in the alphabet into a name without repetition is not a selling point.

While Eunice (for girls), Eunuch (for boys) and Eunorexic (for the very thin) have been suggested for what to call EJC students, the Ministry of Education has pre-emptively coined its own term in the school’s vision statement: “Every Eunoian a youth with purpose, thinker with heart, leader with courage.”

Yes, by the looks of it (and the nicknames alone), every Eunoian would probably need considerable courage to go to a school called Eunoia.

And it’s not even in Eunos.

Before moving to its permanent home at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road at the end of 2019, Eunoia JC will temporarily be at Mount Sinai.

Wait. Mount Sinai? Why are people complaining about Eunoia being a foreign name when there’s a place in Singapore called Mount Sinai? Isn’t that where Charlton Heston received the 10 Commandments?

Thou shalt not give names to places in Singapore that may confuse taxi drivers.

Which is why 1 Sengkang Mall is a better name than Eunoia JC.

Remember when people complained that the name 1 Sengkang Mall was uncreative? Now they complain Eunoia is too creative. That’s what I call ironoia.

Also, 1 Sengkang Mall is a very local name and there’s no debate over its pronunciation.

MOE says Eunoia is pronounced “yoo-noh-iea”. One language expert says it’s “eh-yu-no-ya”. Another claims it’s “ev-nee-ah”.

Since when did Singaporeans care so much about correct pronunciation? This is a country where we still mispronounce “algae” as “el-gay”.

I’m surprised no one created an online petition to stop algae from performing in the Mediacorp countdown show.

But you know what really makes the naming of Eunoia JC a bigger scandal than 1 Sengkang Mall?

The name 1 Sengkang Mall was chosen after Compass Point held a renaming contest in October and a woman won $1,000 for it.

MOE said the name Eunoia Junior College was chosen to demonstrate “not only the college’s commitment to nurture students with outstanding academic abilities, but its belief in the importance of building character and wisdom in tandem with intellectual pursuits”.

I believe the people at MOE are paid a whole lot more than $1,000.

Oh, before I forget, since this is my first column of 2016, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy eu noia.

Pull your ear.

- Published in The New Paper, 3 January 2016

UPDATE: 1 Sengkang Mall is dead, long live Compass One