Monday 31 October 2016

Taking the shorter Newton Challenge

Here are two things everyone is saying about yesterday's Newton Challenge:
  • The weather was great.
  • The up-ramp at Marina Barrage 5km before the finish line wasn't.

It was my first Newton Challenge. There were two categories: 32km and 21km.

I joined the latter to make up for my depressing performance at the Army Half Marathon two months ago.

The problem with half marathons for me is that they usually start early on Sunday (in this case 5:30am) and I usually work late on Saturday night until past midnight.

So what I do is not go home and head for the race venue directly from my workplace without any sleep. Which meant I was not exactly well rested for the race.

Because it was the Newton Challenge, of course I had to wear Newton brand shoes. (Just like for The North Face 100, I wore The North Face Ultra Cardiac shoes.) It's only good manners.

I was catching Pokémon on my phone pretty much the entire way until I almost ran out of balls. It helped to keep my mind off the monotony of the run.

But I made sure I kept up with the 2 hour 30 minute pacers even after I stopped for a toilet break at East Coast around the 9km mark.

That is, I kept up until after 14km when I started running out of gas just as I feared I would.

And then I hit the ramp.

Or rather, the ramp hit me.

Coming at this late stage of the race when everyone was already so tired, the incline was a spirit-breaker.

And that was when I lost sight of the pacers' purple balloons for good.

I didn't achieve my target time of two and a half hours.

But I was content to be 10 minutes ahead of my lousy Army Half Marathon time.

I've come to accept that 2 hours 40 minutes is pretty much the best I can do.

I queued for the free food, which included fried rice (with chicken nuggets). fruit and a durian popsicle that I enjoyed very much.

This was my fourth half marathon and the least grueling, thanks to the cool weather.

I hope to join more 21km races so that I can get used to the distance like I'm now used to the 10km.

I took a nap after coming home from the Marina Barrage. When I woke up, I was surprised to discover a blister on my right foot. I didn't feel it at all.

It was worth it.

Sunday 30 October 2016

Shane Pow! Mediacorp's Toggle gets black eye over blackface

At least now I know what not to wear for Halloween this year.


Instead, maybe I’ll go as Shane Pow.

Except nobody will know I’m Shane Pow unless I go in blackface.

But I can’t go in black face because I would then have to apologise like Toggle did — twice.

And also, you know, because it’s racist.

Admittedly, I had never heard of Shane Pow before I read about his controversial make-up choice in an episode of the Mandarin comedy series I Want To Be A Star produced by Mediacorp.

I have never seen the show. It’s not on Channel 8 or U, but on video streaming service Toggle, which is sort of like Mediacorp’s version of Netflix.

And like Netflix, Toggle also produces its own original content. I guess you can say I Want To Be A Star is Toggle’s Orange Is The New Blackface.

In the episode in question, Pow played an actor who put on blackface make-up and an Afro wig after a casting director failed to find an African man for the role, reported The Straits Times.

So at least the blackface wasn’t gratuitous. It was plot-motivated, not that that made it any less racist.

On Wednesday, Toggle apologised on Twitter, saying:
“Ep 6 of I Want To Be A Star on Toggle Originals featured a brief scene on the portrayal of an Afro-American, played by actor Shane Pow.

“The scene has been perceived as being racially insensitive by some viewers, although that was never our intention in the production.

“We appreciate the feedback and truly apologise to viewers who have been affected by this portrayal. The relevant scenes have also been removed from the programme.”

Toggle’s apology was more poorly received than my column.

You go to Twitter to say sorry, Twitter will make you really sorry.

Here are some of the replies:
  • “This isn’t an apology. Admit someone made a mistake during the production process instead of blaming the viewers’ ‘perception’.”
  • “So I take it that @ToggleSG and @mediacorp still don’t have an issue with blackface? Only the viewers’ reactions?”
  • “Remove yourselves from existence please.”

The backlash got so bad that the next day, Mediacorp’s head of connected media Anil Nihalani had to apologise for the apology:
“Our apology yesterday came out wrong. We’re sorry for the blackface portrayal and for the poor apology.

“We take race-related issues very seriously and that portrayal should not have happened.”
To show how serious he is about his apology, he also apologised on Facebook, not Twitter.

Last year, another Mediacorp artist, Desmond Tan, was also criticised for posting on Instagram a photo of himself in blackface and a turban.

I can see how this happens.

In a local entertainment culture where male comedians have made a career out of pretending to be another sex (see Liang Xi Mei, Liang Po Po, Aunty Lucy and maybe Kumar?), why not another race?

Look at Gurmit Singh.

If a Singh can play Phua Chu Kang, why can’t Desmond Tan play a Singh?

I’m old enough to remember watching on Channel 5 a BBC programme called The Black And White Minstrel Show, where the male performers were all in blackface and everyone seemed fine with it. The popular series lasted from 1958 to 1978.

But this is 2016.

You can still find the show on YouTube if you want to be horrified by casual racism packaged as lavish song-and-dance numbers.

Nowadays, you can no longer get away with Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese man in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) or James Bond going undercover as a Japanese man by getting Vulcan eyebrows in You Only Live Twice (1967).

Or can you?

Last week, I saw Doctor Strange, where the character of The Ancient One, who appears Asian in the comics, is played by the very Caucasian Tilda Swinton.

Well, at least they didn’t give her Vulcan eyebrows.

I’m also old enough to remember when Darlie toothpaste used to be Darkie toothpaste and the logo was a black man (or possibly a white man in blackface from The Black And White Minstrel Show) wearing a top hat.

The name was finally changed in 1989 and the logo became a man of indeterminate race wearing a top hat.

Unfortunately, in Chinese, the product is still called “Black Person Toothpaste”.

Because of these mixed signals, perhaps it’s understandable if not excusable that Toggle thought that blackface was acceptable comedy fodder.

One can only wish that Singaporeans could be at least less racist than a toothpaste.

For Halloween, I think I’ll just go as 200 eggs.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 October 2016

UPDATE: IMDA fines Mediacorp $5,500 for racially insensitive content

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Black face to red-faced: Toggle, The Smart Local say sorry for racist videos

Wow, two Facebook apologies within two hours of each other for racially insensitive online videos.

First, Mediacorp's Toggle said sorry for this:

Then The Smart Local for this:

This must be some sort of new record.


COLUMN: Shane Pow! Mediacorp's Toggle gets black eye over blackface

Sunday 23 October 2016

Hello, have you been retrenched by SPH?

Time to address to the elephant in the room. Or rather, on the phone. Though it’s not very nice to refer to my mother as an elephant, as heavy as she is.

She called me yesterday afternoon.

Actually, it was two minutes after noon, to be exact. The first thing she asked me was whether I was awake. Since it was only two minutes after noon, the answer was barely.

She then asked me if I had been laid off.

Where did this come from?

Was it because she had read that the number of workers retrenched in the first half of this year has hit a six-year high, according to Ministry of Manpower figures?

No, it’s actually because she had heard from my aunt who had heard from my cousin that my company was retrenching people.

My mother also said that my cousin has moved in with my aunt because he used to live in his ex-wife’s home but was kicked out because his ex-wife wants to sell the home because she’s living in the US now.

Yeah, it’s complicated. But I digress.

My cousin had probably read last week that Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is cutting up to 10 per cent of its 4,182-strong workforce over the next two years through “attrition, retirement, non-renewal of contracts, outplacement and retrenchment”.

SPH also announced that it is merging free sheet My Paper and paid daily The New Paper to form a revamped TNP, which will be launched on Dec 1 and distributed free at the same places you get My Paper now.

The new New Paper will be published from Monday to Saturday.

Which means that The New Paper on Sunday, where you’re reading my sad words at this moment, will be headed for the great recycling bin in the sky.

So if I were me, I would be worried about losing my job.

Hey, wait a minute, I am me!

My wife said it would be funny if I were retrenched by SPH again because it would be the second time. Like the way many readers feel about this column, I fail to see the humour in it.

In 2001, two months after 9/11, the now-forgotten SPH MediaWorks laid off 73 workers — and I was one of them.

Let’s have a moment of silence, please, in memory of Channel i, which was formerly TVWorks, where I formerly worked.

Unlike 15 years ago, the Government seems to be making a better effort in helping job seekers now.

Back then, there was no Singapore Workforce Development Agency, which was created in 2003. There was no National Jobs Bank, which was launched in 2014.

Even though I was unemployed, I still looked forward to the weekend because Saturday was (and still is) the day The Straits Times has the most job ads.

At 35 when I was laid off, I already felt I was too old for many of the positions I was applying for.

Now that I’m half a century old, I’m more likely to get colorectal cancer than another job if I’m retrenched again.

At least that’s the impression I got from the letter the Singapore Cancer Society sent me after my 50th birthday asking for my stool samples.

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

They’re on their way.

Incidentally, Singapore postal workers are heroes for the literal crap they have to handle in the mail.

Hmmm, I wonder if there are any job openings at Singapore Post.

After all, I can’t be too picky since there just isn’t much demand for unfunny “humour” columnists five years away from being eligible to withdraw from their CPF.

Maybe I can get a job running the Singapore national men’s football team.

Last week, the Lions fell to an all-time lowest world ranking of 171 out of 205 in the latest table published by Fifa on Thursday.

I believe that I’m qualified for the job because like whoever is in charge now, I too have absolutely no experience in running a successful national football team.

But fortunately (or unfortunately) for Singapore football, I have not been retrenched by SPH (yet).

And that was what I told my mother on the phone.

She was relieved.

I wanted to ask her about my cousin, but I wanted to go back to sleep even more. After all, it was only a few minutes after noon.

I said goodbye to my mum and hung up.

A few minutes later, I received a WhatsApp message from my sister: “I heard about SPH cutting people from someone working at News Centre...”

Aiyah, here we go again.

She had better have some great gossip for me about my cousin.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 October 2016

Sunday 16 October 2016

You can take the SIN out of Singapore, but you can't take out the sin

I guess we can now cast the first stone.

At least at international sporting events.

Last month, Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) announced on its Facebook page: “Our NOC code is now ‘SGP’ instead of ‘SIN’. In line with the United Nations (UN) / International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) official 3-letter country code.”

Yes, we are finally without SIN.

Fortunately, legalised online gambling isn’t one of the seven deadly ones.

But lust is.

Thirty National University of Singapore (NUS) students were punished for “disorderly and offensive behaviour” and “organising and participating in improper orientation activities that potentially put other students’ physical welfare at risk” during the freshman orientation period.

What kind of “disorderly and offensive behaviour”?

To quote Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung: “Pretending to ejaculate into the face of a fellow student.”

Hey, at least, it was just “pretending”.

But NUS wasn’t the only local tertiary institution in the news last week for the sins of its undergrads.

Perennially behind NUS in world rankings, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) wasn’t going to let NUS corner the market on students behaving badly.

On Thursday, a male NTU student was caught allegedly taking videos of other male students in the shower.

NTU campus newspaper The Nanyang Chronicle reported that 66 videos of male students showering were found on the phone of the 24-year-old suspect, who is a final-year student from the National Institute of Education.

Wait, the National Institute of Education? You mean, this voyeur was going to be a teacher?

The operative word being “was”, I hope.

The Nanyang Chronicle also quoted the residence hall president as saying: “We strongly advise all residents in every hall, no matter their gender, to be careful when they shower or use the washroom.”

Careful when showering? I already have enough on my mind, concentrating on not dropping my soap and bending down to pick it up.

“No one is safe,” the residence hall president added. “So bathe quickly and be observant of the openings in the toilet cubicles.”

But what if you’re not the Usain Bolt of bathing?

The only way to be really safe is to skip showering and going to the toilet at NTU altogether.

But isn't this a form of victim-blaming?

Instead of telling students to be careful when they shower, shouldn’t students be told not to take videos of other students showering?

Even though the possible future voyeur-teacher has been arrested, that doesn’t mean our children’s innocence is safe.

That’s why we should be grateful to Facebook user Mylilbookworm who warned parents about a comic book sold at Popular Bookstore called Bro Don't Like That La Bro #2: My Bad Bromance by Malaysian cartoonist Ernest Ng.

This is in addition to the warning sticker on the book itself, which says: “Careful! Cheeky content inside! Suitable for ages 18 and up. Or really matured kids. Or people who are not easily offended.”

But that sticker is clearly not enough as one parent pointed out: “The label they had used looks like something not to be taken seriously.”

The book was also categorised under “Local interest” in the adults section, but since there are no bouncers or door bitches to stop underage children from entering the adults section in the bookstore, Popular took the books off the shelves on Wednesday.

Informed of this bad news about his book on Facebook, Ng replied: “I don't think this is bad news at all hahah.”

He also posted: “Exposure is best currency. I can buy food with exposure. And then I die. Ballin' in exposure yo. Don't be hatin'.”

So it’s win-win for everyone. Mylilbookworm got Popular to remove the books and the book’s author got some free publicity.

It’s almost like The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye and that book about the gay penguins all over again.

Lust may be a sin, but you still need it to improve our country’s fertility rate.

This much is tacitly acknowledged by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo in an interview last week with The Straits Times about whether young people are not getting their flats early enough to have children.

“You need a very small space to have sex,” she said.

In other words, size does not matter, which is what I have been telling all my girlfriends.

The Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, who also oversees the National Population and Talent Division, added:
"In France, in the UK, in the Nordic countries, man meets woman, tonight they can make a baby already. They love each other."
Is that love?

Sounds more like lust to me.

Perhaps we should’ve remained as SIN city after all.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 October 2016

Friday 14 October 2016

Bikini alert! Miss Universe Singapore 2016 finalist videos in one place

The Miss Universe Singapore final will be held on Sunday.

Here are the videos for each of the 15 finalists:

UPDATE: Miss Cheryl Chou won.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

They ran in memory of Max Woon, the S'porean who died at Mt Kinabalu

Mr Max Woon died in a fall while training for the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon in Malaysia.

I don't know him, but as a runner, I felt he was a kindred spirit. I probably ran in a couple of the same races that he did, like The Performance Series at Gardens by the Bay.

It was heartbreaking to read the tributes to Mr Woon on the running-related Facebook pages I follow.

Yesterday, a group of runners gathered at Bedok Reservoir for a run in memory of Mr Woon.

You know, I used to scoff at the idea of a running "community".

Now I see that a community does exist — sadly, only after it came together to honour a fallen comrade.

Monday 10 October 2016

Performance Series: Bedok Reservoir: Four down, one to go

I did something really stupid on Sunday.

My wife and I woke up early to go to the fourth Performance Series race at Bedok Reservoir. We had double-checked our start times and booked a taxi.

It was about a half-hour ride from Choa Chu Kang to Bedok Reservoir. As we approached our destination, my wife commented there wasn't much activity at the park. That was when I quickly went to the Performance Series website on my iPhone and checked the date of the run.

It said Oct 9. We were one week early! That was why the park was so quiet.

I made the mistake because the race is typically a week after the race pack collection and we had just collected our race packs on Sept 25. So naturally, I assumed the run would be on Oct 2. I was wrong.

So we got up early and spent over $20 on taxi fare for nothing.

I could've asked the taxi driver to take us home, but I was so stunned and embarrassed by my stupidity that I just got out of the cab with my wife at Bedok Reservoir even though there was nothing happening there.

We took a long walk to the Bedok MRT station and ate prawn mee at the nearby food centre before taking the train back.

The race was actually yesterday. So we got up early again and spent another $24 on taxi fare.

We were relieved to see the crowd when we reached Bedok Reservoir. At least we got the date right this time.

Then we found out that because of early morning rain (which had stopped by the time we got there), Wave 1 was cancelled and Wave 2 was delayed. I was in Wave 3 of the 10km race, which was supposed to start at 8am. My wife's 5km run was to start at 8:45am.

At least one Wave 1 runner wasn't happy with the situation. This is what he posted on the organiser's Facebook page:

The Performance Series - Singapore I am a Wave 1 runner for Race #4 at Bedok Reservoir and I am very disappointed and angry at ur organization of the race this morning.

1) Race was allowed to commence at 6.30am sharp despite several lightning flashes seen and thunder being heard shortly before flag-off.

2) Heavy thunderstorm occured shortly about 10mins after flag-off. I braved the heavy rain, strong wind and lightning for a good few kilometres without hearing any cancellation announcement from organizer.

3) Around the 5km mark, race marshal diverted the runners to the finish line and said that Wave 1 has been cancelled. This totally does not make any sense because the rain has been reduced to a slight drizzle and thunder as well as lighting has ceased.

4) I saw some Wave 1 runners were still allowed to continue to run to the finish line. This include some of my friends. How is this even allowed to happen when Wave 1 has been cancelled? This is a lapse of race marshals in allowing runners to continue running despite cancellation of Wave 1.

Summary of my post - Poor wet weather plan by race organizer coupled with meaningless decisions that really pisses me off and some other Wave 1 runners, as seen from other posts on this page.

The Performance Series - Singapore Please wake up your idea and do a post-race review of what happened this morning. U simply undone all your good work for the previous 3 races. Hopefully the next and final race will be better organized and planned.

Yeah, it sounds like the organiser hesitated in cancelling the Wave 1 race and then overcompensated.

I'm just relieved I wasn't in Wave 1.

Wave 2 and Wave 3 were flagged off together at 8am.

As with previous Performance Series races, the route was narrow and congested, made worse by combining two waves of runners together.

But having come to expect this, I've learnt to embrace this overcrowding as a challenge that I have to overcome as a runner.

Because the 10km route requires me to go around the reservoir twice, I ended up running next to my wife doing her 5k, which I don't usually get to do in a race. That was fun. I didn't care about my timing any more.

I had to stop once before the finish line to get the sand out of my Hoka Clifton 2 shoes.

With one more Performance Series race to go in December, I look back at the four previous races around Singapore and I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed the experience in retrospect.

Despite all the irritating quirks, like the narrow routes, double loops, awkward U-turns and T-shirts in the most horrifying colours known to humankind, the Performance Series has provided many fond memories for my wife and me.

Yes, including the time we went to a race on the wrong day.

Performance Series race 1: Punngol Waterway-Coney Island
Performance Series race 2: Jurong Lake
Performance Series race 3: Gardens By The Bay