Sunday 25 September 2016

Rio Ferdinand's nasi goreng, Circle Line signal interference & MRT customer satisfaction: Where did it come from?

I wonder, will some mysteries ever be solved?

Like the Loch Ness Monster.

Alien crop circles.

Singapore nasi goreng.

Are they real?

Or are they just figments of an ex-England footballer’s imagination?

In Singapore for the Grand Prix race last weekend, former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand tweeted a photo of himself and a plate of fried rice with the words: “Nasi goreng lunch. Keeping it local in #Singapore.”

Faster than a monitor lizard scurrying across the F1 track in the middle of a race, someone replied to Ferdinand’s tweet: “Actually, that’s Indonesian local food.”

To which someone else replied: “No, it’s not. The only local Indonesian food is haze.”

That was accompanied by an animated gif that says: “Oooooh… burn!”

Boy, that escalated quickly.

One headline read: “Rio Ferdinand sparks nasi goreng war.

War? Over fried rice?

So now if the Indonesians launch rockets at Marina Bay from Batam, we know why.

It’s the ex-Red Devil’s fault.

But my fellow columnist KF Seetoh would have none of it.

The Makansutra founder posted on Facebook: “Media… pse stop asking me abt that Rio Ferdinand comment abt nasi goreng hor..u r tempting sarcasm liao.. yr questions oso sibeh buay tahan wan.”

Translation: “Reporters, please stop asking me about Rio Ferdinand’s comment about nasi goreng or you may get a sarcastic reply. Your questions are intolerable.”

His conscientious objection is likely a consequence of the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered from fighting the Chicken Rice War of 2009 with Malaysia.

That food fight started when Malaysia’s tourism minister said: “We cannot continue to let other countries hijack our food. Chilli crab is Malaysian. Hainanese chicken rice is Malaysian.”

Next time I order any food, remind me to check its passport.

But I suspect it’s impossible to definitively solve the mystery of where every dish originated from.

Just like we may never know the origin of the signal interference that caused train delays on the Circle Line for five consecutive days from Aug 29 and Sept 2.

As The Straits Times reported on Sept 6: “The unknown signal interference which bedevilled the Circle Line last week has ceased as mysteriously and suddenly as it has started.”

Oooooh… “mysterious”… cue the X-Files theme.

Last week, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT released a joint statement, saying they “have been undertaking investigations into the cause of the intermittent loss of signalling communications between the trains and tracks on the Circle Line, leading to the automatic activation of the trains’ emergency brakes”.

But “as the incidents had ceased by the afternoon of Sept 2, they were unable to determine the source”.

Which means the problem solved itself before they could solve the problem.

That was good for commuters, but not so good for LTA and SMRT because they couldn’t solve the problem, which, in turn, may turn out to not be good for commuters after all.

No wonder the LTA CEO Chew Men Leong quit last month.

Somehow, despite the many train delays, the latest Customer Satisfaction Index shows that the MRT had a higher customer satisfaction score from April to July than for the same period last year.

Published last week by the Institute of Service Excellence at Singapore Management University, the index also says that overall, consumers were more satisfied with the land transport sector, compared to last year.

For many people, the response to this is probably “In what universe?”

It’s the same reaction to such reality-bending headlines as “Bus fares will be affordable if raised” and “Rise in major breakdowns but MRT gets more reliable”.

Hey, wait a minute. I just thought of something.

Maybe that was where the mysterious Circle Line signal interference came from!

This alternate parallel universe where consumers are more satisfied with land transport, bus fares are more affordable if raised and the MRT gets more reliable with more major breakdowns.

It’s like The Upside Down universe in the Netflix series, Stranger Things.

Somehow, all the cognitive dissonance generated by our public transport system ruptured the fabric of space-time and created a portal between the two parallel universes, allowing the signal from The Upside Down to interfere with the Circle Line.

And that was why LTA and SMRT couldn’t find the source.

Because it came from another universe.

Through a portal unwittingly created by themselves.

Oh, the irony.

Mystery solved.

Watch out, Nessie. I’m coming for you next.

But first, I shall reward myself with nasi goreng of undetermined origin.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 September 2016

UPDATE: I received this great tweet from Netflix:

Sunday 18 September 2016

So atas: Ah Beng boards Chinese helicopter to Oxford without Ah Lian

I have bad news for Madam Goh Beng Choo.

She’s the 64-year-old lady who started an online petition to have the derogatory term “Chinese helicopter” removed from Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in May.

The term is still flying high in the OED. The online version, at least.

I can sympathise.

I, too, started a petition to have the derogatory term “sotong” removed because it is highly disrespectful to tentacled marine life and insensitive to blur Singaporeans of all ages.

The term is still swimming there in the OED. The online version, at least.

In three months, my petition has garnered a total of one signature — mine.

Well, it’s still as effective as Madam Goh’s petition, which had 498 supporters as of yesterday. That is, not effective at all.

To recap, her petition said:
“The term ‘Chinese helicopter’ uses punning to tease Chinese-educated people in Singapore.

“It is highly disrespectful and if it stays in the dictionary, it will give the impression that it is an acceptable term.

“It is actually insensitive and highly derogatory and will hurt millions of elderly Chinese-educated citizens.

"It will pollute the language learning of young generations of Singaporeans.”

Actually, I first heard of the term in the army.

So if Madam Goh really wants to protect the language learning of young generations of Singapore from being polluted, she should petition to have national service abolished.

I’m sure she would get more than 498 supporters for that petition.

The irony is that because of Madam Goh’s petition and the subsequent publicity, even more people learnt about “Chinese helicopter”, thus polluting the language learning of young generations of Singaporeans even further.

And now, as if to add insult to derogation, in this month’s update, OED has included “Ah Beng” — a derogatory term used to describe people whom the derogatory term “Chinese helicopter” is usually targeted at.

“Ah Beng” is defined by OED as “a young man of a type characterised by the wearing of fashionable or designer clothing and by behaviour considered brash and loutish”.

Will Madam Goh start another petition asking for “Ah Beng” to be removed from OED too?

Judging by how successful her “Chinese helicopter” petition has been, I guess not.

By the way, was I the only one to find it odd that “Chinese helicopter” got into OED in March and not “Ah Beng”?

That was like having the Paralympics without the Olympics.

I’m glad that OED has finally remedied that oversight — but now I find it odd that “Ah Beng” got in and not “Ah Lian”.

It’s like having Kong Hee without Sun Ho.

I know some people find China Wine even more offensive than “Chinese helicopter”.

Partly because of the “Chinese helicopter” controversy — first with many Singaporeans not having heard of the term before, then the petition — the addition of new Singapore English words in OED in March was much talked about.

That has not been the case with the latest OED update despite the “Ah Beng” thing.

Other new additions include “aiyah”, “aiyoh” and “atas”, which is defined as an adjective.

I hope this proves once and for all that the tagline for McDonald’s Signature Collection of premium burgers — “Now everyone can atas” — is grammatically wrong.

“Atas” is not a verb, McDonald’s. Oxford says so.

I shall start a petition demanding that McDonald’s correct its tagline after I finish my Burger King Teriyaking beef burger.

Wait, is “Teriyaking” a word?

I can’t find it in Oxford.

Maybe it’s Japanese.

One reason that OED’s latest Singapore English additions aren’t discussed as much could be that, unlike in March, OED didn’t present its new Singapore English words on a convenient list of just new Singapore English words.

This time, they are presented alphabetically on a list mixed together with other new words, like “moobs”, “uh-oh” and “YOLO”.

So you have to sieve through hundreds of words to pick out the Singapore English ones from the others, which is not as straightforward as it may seem.

Sure, “ang pow”, “char kway teow” and “kopitiam” are obviously of Singaporean origin, but what about “cheeba”?

It sounds suspiciously like another word I used to hear very often in the army.

Typically from an Ah Beng.

As it turns out, OED says “cheeba” is actually “a potent variety of Colombian marijuana” or just “marijuana of any kind”.

What a relief.

And I don’t mean from the marijuana.

Or do I?

If “cheeba” had turned out to be the Singapore English word I thought it was, Madam Goh would have cause to start another petition.

Hey, Oxford, “Chinese helicopter” is one thing, but you don’t “cheeba”, okay?

- Published in The New Paper, 18 September 2016

Sunday 11 September 2016

Choosing from 33 NS vocations & Singapore President isn't one of them

Wah lau! How can?

What is this? National service or a job fair?

Last week, it was announced that those starting NS in November next year will get to choose from 33 vocations in the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Why stop there?

Might as well reduce full-time NS to two years for all NSFs.

They did that already?

Might as well eliminate chin-ups from IPPT.

They did that too?

Might as well get a maid to carry your army field pack for you.

That actually happened?!

In my day, I didn’t have a maid to carry my bag for me. I asked my mother.

Kids today are so lucky.

Of course, that was exactly what the older guys said to me 30 years ago too when I did my full-time NS.

They would tell me about how they had to starch their uniforms and polish their boots until the sergeant could see his reflection in the footwear to admire his handsomeness.

It has become a tradition for earlier generations of servicemen to lament how the younger ones have it much easier.

For example, in recent years, soldiers got branded sports shoes from New Balance, Brooks, Asics, Adidas and Zoot.

In my day, the only brand we got was PT because that was what we called them — PT shoes.

PT stands for “physical training”.

And unlike the new iPhone 7, the shoes didn’t come in jet black or matte black. They were just black black.

Breakfast was “fried rubber bands, otherwise known as fried bee hoon”, according to Makansutra’s KF Seetoh, who, at 54, can be considered a “lao peng” (old soldier).

On his website, he described how he “thoroughly enjoyed” a piece of fried chicken “until I was told it was pork”.

But by 2011, Mindef was so proud of its army cookhouse food that it invited Seetoh and other food critics for a tasting.

Could a Michelin Star be next?

When I was a recruit on Pulau Tekong, I was in Charlie Company with the famously haunted three-door bunk in Camp 1, which has since been closed down.

These days, recruits sleep in presumably non-haunted bunks.

And on top of all that, they now get to choose their vocation too?

Kids today are so lucky.

I’m surprised “Singapore President” isn’t one of the 33 choices.

Head of state aside, the most “switch-off” vocation seems to be Intelligence, which is described as the “eyes and ears” of the SAF, providing “early warnings for the SAF to counteract threats and win the information battle”.

If the video on the Central Manpower Base website is anything to go by, Intelligence appears to involve a lot of staring at computer screens in an air-con room, which is what every NSF dreams of.

So you have to be pretty un-intelligent to not choose Intelligence.

But choosing it doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

After “indicating your interest” in the vocations you want, your assignment will be based on your medical fitness, cognitive attributes, skills and the organisational requirements of the different forces.

Meaning if everyone goes for Intelligence, not everyone will get Intelligence.

But this uncertainty also allows for some serendipity, which is not a bad thing.

If I had a choice back then, I would have chosen to be a signaller because I had a diploma in electronics and communications engineering from Singapore Polytechnic.

I was so traumatised when I was posted to be a combat medical orderly that I wanted to sign on just so I could choose my vocation. But it was too late.

Serendipity was when the navy came to the School of Military Medicine, where I was training, to recruit underwater medics for the Naval Diving Unit, and I volunteered.

I was accepted and relieved to get out of army camouflage and into navy blues.

If I had become a signaller like I wanted, this column would have been bereft of stories about naval divers, former navy chief Lui Tuck Yew and that time I was caught performing an alleged lewd act in a hotel room while on shore leave in Thailand.

Which is why if I were enlisting now, Naval Operations would also be one of the vocations I would “indicate interest” in. Though probably not Medical. I can’t do IVs.

But as much as I envy how lucky kids are today, I know that chances are they, too, will envy the kids 30 years from now.

Who knows? At this rate, NS could be abolished altogether by then.

Wah lau! How can?

- Published in The New Paper, 11 September 2016

Sunday 4 September 2016

The sting: Is Zika outbreak another sign we're losing the war on dengue?

The Zika has hit the fan.

But not the sports fan.

Remember when people were afraid to go to Brazil for the Rio Olympics because of Zika?

On Friday, the World Health Organisation said no infections were reported among the athletes and visitors during the Games.

So don’t blame Joseph Schooling for the Zika outbreak in Singapore.

We are the new Brazil — minus the giant Jesus statue, Carnival and a few World Cups.

But we do have the Merlion statues, Chingay and a few Malaysia Cups.

So Singapore and Brazil are practically twins. At least fraternal twins.

We even had a major international event where thousands risked infection to attend — the opening of Japanese label Uniqlo’s first global flagship store in South-east Asia at Orchard Central on Friday.

You think beating Michael Phelps in the pool is tough?

Try enduring someone insincerely yelling “Welcome to Uniqlo!” every second you’re in the store for 50.39 seconds.

No $39 jogger pants is worth that. Ooh, elastic waistband.

But unlike Uniqlo, some businesses have suffered since the Zika outbreak as people are avoiding crowds and staying home.

This is the opposite of what I would do since I get more mosquito bites when I’m at home.

Also, I would rather be in a crowd so that the insects have other people’s blood to suck besides mine.

It’s every man for himself.

I guess it’s instinctive for people to avoid crowds when there’s an epidemic. Most of us were probably conditioned to do so by the Sars outbreak of 2003 when hell was other people.

But you can’t get Zika from someone coughing on you.

Perhaps people are paranoid that if you are in a crowd, chances are someone in the crowd could have Zika and a mosquito could bite that Zika-infected person and then bite you.

Whereas if you are by yourself, all the mosquito has to bite is you.

Which is bad but also good because unless you already have Zika, you’re not going to give yourself Zika.

And that’s your excuse for being alone and not that you don’t have any friends.

But Singaporeans have not been advised to avoid crowds or stay home because of Zika.

Though one of the doctors who first raised the alarm about the disease in Singapore, Dr Chi Wei Ming, did advise on Facebook last week:
“Unless you live or work in Sims Drive, Aljunied Crescent, Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way, avoid these areas. Please do not go to these areas to hunt for Pokemons!”
Hey, doc, thanks for helping us fight the spread of Zika and all that, but, please, the plural of “Pokemon” is “Pokemon”. There is no “s” at the end.

Just like the plural of “sheep” is “sheep”. There is no “sheeps”.

As in “To the mosquitoes, we are all just sheep for the slaughter.”

To avoid getting Zika, basically all you have to do is avoid getting bitten by a mosquito. Of course, that’s easier said than done, even as insect repellent becomes the eau de parfum du jour. (Pardon my French.)

It’s not like before Zika came along, we were letting mosquitoes bite us for fun. It’s not like we suddenly realised, “Oh my god, you mean like having unprotected sex with strangers, getting bitten by a mosquito can actually be bad for us?”

Before the war on Zika, we were already having a war on dengue, both of which are essentially the same thing — a war on the Aedes mosquito.

It’s like waging a war on crimson when we are already at war with the colour red. It’s kind of redundant.

And meanwhile, Selena Gomez is at war with lupus, another disease in the news last week I had to Google.

But the fact that we have to have a war on Zika is an indication of how terribly the war on dengue is going.

Being the hot new disease in town, Zika is hogging the headlines, but dengue remains a more serious problem.

We have had 11,247 dengue cases since Jan 3 the last time I checked, which can be easily converted to a Zika website by just replacing the dengue stuff with Zika stuff. Most of it is mosquito stuff anyway.

Can our war on Zika turn out any better than our war on dengue?

If not, I know one place I can go to escape from Zika-and-dengue-ridden Zikapore — Brazil for the Rio Paralympics, which starts on Thursday.

I must remember to pack my new jogger pants

- Published in The New Paper, 4 September 2016