Monday 28 November 2016

One-North Run: Why you shouldn't organise a race in November

There's a reason the Guns N Roses song is called November Rain, and not, say, October Rain or December Rain.

I remember it rained during the first Hello Kitty Run in 2014. What month was it held? November.

Yesterday morning, the One-North Run 10km race was cancelled because of the weather.

The flag-off was supposed to be at 6:30am. It didn't happen.

So instead, I joined the 5km race, which was delayed from 7:30am to 8am.

I signed up for this race because this is a part of Singapore I've never been before.

Not a particularly scenic route. It's all just office buildings, albeit with some interesting architecture. I doubt I would want to run here again.

Dig my yellow-and-black race ensemble.

The event area was at the new Mediacorp campus at Mediapolis. The only celebrity I saw and recognised was Felicia Chin.

Remind me not to join any more November races in the future.

Sunday 27 November 2016

Buying white people's shoes on Black Friday: New Balance not down with TPP (Yeah, you know me)

I have a question.

Do white supremacists celebrate Black Friday?

I’m asking this because I was at Suntec City Mall two days ago, which happened to be Black Friday, and noticed that the New Balance store was having a Black Friday sale.

Wait a minute, I thought to myself.

Didn’t I just read recently that New Balance has become the footwear of choice for white supremacy?

And it’s not because Hitler wore New Balance. (Or did he?)

As with many unsettling things happening in the world right now, it started after Mr Donald Trump was elected US president.

Welcoming the outcome, the New Balance vice president of public affairs said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
“The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”
This upset a number of anti-Trump New Balance shoe owners so much that they shared videos of themselves throwing their New Balance retro kicks into the rubbish or setting the shoes on fire in protest.

Meanwhile, I still can’t bear to throw my old shoes away even though they’re so worn out that they look like they have already been set on fire.

The New Balance guy has since clarified that the company doesn’t support Mr Trump per se, but is against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Mr Trump opposes — and Singapore die-die must have.

Wait, does this mean as a Singaporean, I should burn my New Balance shoes too? Nah, why bother? They look burnt anyway.

The reason New Balance opposes the TPP is that the US company manufactures parts of its shoes in the US and believes the TPP would doom American factories.

The shoemaker released this statement on Twitter: “Since 1906, we have carved our own path in being passionately committed to making things at our five factories in New England, even when nobody else did. New Balance and our thousands of employees around the world constantly strive to better our local communities.”

Praising New Balance, a US blogger called The Daily Stormer wrote:
“New Balance is making a gesture to support white people and to support US manufacturing. We need to support that.

“I see New Balances now becoming the official shoes of white people...

“This will be fantastic. We will be able to recognise one another by our sportswear.”
Uh... can’t white people already recognise one another just by, you know, being white?

Perhaps worried that something like this might turn off non-white people (which constitutes quite a bit of the world’s population) from buying its shoes, New Balance released another statement on Twitter: “New Balance does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form…

“As a 110-year-old company with five factories in the US and thousands of employees worldwide from all races, genders, cultures and sexual orientations, New Balance is a values-driven organisation and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world.”

This is probably why despite being the “official shoes of white people”, New Balance didn’t have a White Friday sale.

But why is it called Black Friday anyway?

It’s not because it’s the day after the PSLE results are released and parents’ faces turn black.

You know how I know PSLE doesn’t matter?

Because when you apply for probably the best job in the world, Carlsberg doesn't ask for your T-score.

You just need to be over 18, have zero experience and really, really like Carlsberg beer.

Black Friday is also not the day when retailers go from being “in the red” to being “in the black” even though this is a popular explanation.

According to, the term “Black Friday” was first used in the 60s to describe the day after Thanksgiving (every last Thursday of November in the US) because of the chaos created by the hordes of shoppers.

Then “in the late 1980s… retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers”.

And voila, the “red to black” nonsense.

Even though Thanksgiving still hasn’t quite caught on in Singapore yet (and why should it? Turkey just tastes like bad chicken), Black Friday is becoming like the year’s third coming of the Great Singapore Sale two weeks after Singles’ Day on Nov 11, the Orchard Road Business Association’s resistance notwithstanding.

Which is why the New Balance store at Suntec is offering 20 per cent off storewide (including sale items) from Friday until today.

I may not be a white person, but I bought a pair of New Balance Zante V2 running shoes for $79 (down from $169) just to be ironic.

What colour are they? Black and white, of course.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 November 2016

Sunday 20 November 2016

No, MRT lines did not 'show best performance in 29-year history'

Last week, Oxford Dictionaries named its Word of the Year 2016 and it’s “Chinese helicopter”.

No, that’s a lie because “Chinese helicopter” is two words.

Actually, it’s not a lie. It’s “post-truth”.

And “post-truth” is Oxford’s true Word of the Year.

But isn’t “post-truth” also two words?

No, the hyphen joins the two words to make it a compound word, which is counted as one word.

But ironically, in a post-truth world which we live in now, “post-truth” feels like two words.

What does it mean anyway?

You want the meaning of “post-truth”? You can’t handle the meaning of “post-truth”!

Oxford defines it as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

I told you that you couldn’t handle it.

To cut all that verbiage, Oxford could’ve just used a picture of US President-elect Donald Trump.

“Post-truth” was chosen because “Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU (European Union) referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”.

But can “post-truth” apply to Singapore too?

Take, for example, this online Straits Times headline that appeared on Friday: “North-South, East-West MRT lines show best performance in 29-year history.”

I don’t know about you, but I take everything I read from The Straits Times as an objective fact.

However, in a post-truth world, this online headline went against my personal belief.

It’s right up there with other dubious public transport-related headlines like “Bus fares will be affordable if raised” and “Rise in major breakdowns but MRT gets more reliable”.

And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, judging by the reactions on social media like “You’re kidding??!!!” and “Hahahahaahaa”.

On The Straits Times’ own Facebook page, the report was greeted with some incredulity. One person commented: “Joke of the day. I laughed till I almost hit the car in front!”

Another: “I smell breakdowns coming... they always have a way to jinx the MRT.”

The latter comment was rather prescient as later that day, SMRT tweeted:

Then 14 minutes later:

Yes, it seems that every time SMRT blows its own horn, the MRT just blows.

In February last year, SMRT patted itself on the back for receiving the award for Delivering Value Through Risk Management in London.

Almost immediately after that, the train delays started with four incidents over five days, including a fire that shut down the entire Bukit Panjang LRT system.

Five months later at the SMRT annual general meeting, CEO Desmond Kuek bragged about winning that risk management award and another one for Best Public Sector Campaign given by the Singapore Institute of Public Relations.

Hours later, both the North-South Line and East-West Line were shut down during evening rush hour. The breakdown was so epic, songs were written about it.

A month later, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew quit.

So was SMRT tempting fate again last week? Is history repeating itself like another NKF CEO scandal?

As it turned out, the online Straits Times headline was wrong.

What the online report actually said was:
“The North-South and East-West MRT lines achieved 144,000 train-km before breakdown in the first 10 months of this year, the best recorded performance for the two lines in recent years.”
“The North-South and East-West lines started operating 29 years ago.”
Somehow, the headline writer conflated the facts and the result was “North-South, East-West MRT lines show best performance in 29-year history”.

The headline on The Straits Times website has since been corrected to read: “North-South, East-West MRT lines show best performance for first 10 months of 2016.”

Unfortunately, the error is preserved in the web page’s URL itself:

And I have the screengrab.

As they say, the Internet is forever. Unlike today’s newspaper, which will be tomorrow's recyclable.

Speaking of which, in yesterday’s print edition of The Straits Times, the headline for the same report went a totally different route: “Rail reliability target ambitious, says SMRT chief.”

This illustrates how the projection of a report can change drastically from online to print. The online version is pretty much just the rough draft.

But erroneous online headline aside, SMRT should just stop trying to shape public opinion with stats about improved performance because no one is buying it.

And that’s the post-truth and nothing but the post-truth.

Meanwhile, to avoid getting stuck in a train breakdown in the near future, I recommend you take a Chinese helicopter instead.

But remember to add a hyphen.

As Spandau Ballet sang, I know this much is post-true.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 November 2016

Sunday 13 November 2016

Trumpocalypse now? I asked a friend if she voted for him & she said 'Yup'

Hello? Halloooo!

Are you there? Anyone still alive?

Has the world ended yet?

For supporters of US president wannabe Hillary Clinton, it might as well have.

We survived exploding Samsung phones and washing machines for this?

As US talk show host Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday night when America elected its first commander-in-chief to have ever sold steak: “It feels like we’re trying to avoid the apocalypse, and half of the country is voting for the asteroid.”

That asteroid is of course Mr Donald J Trump, the next president of the not so United States.

Where was Bruce Willis to blow up the crotch-grabbing space rock threatening to destroy the Earth when you needed him?

Instead of the Armageddon hero, who did Mrs Clinton get to endorse her? Beyonce? Katy Perry? Lady Gaga?

All of them were no match for Scott Baio.

But didn’t the polls say the former First Lady would win the election?

As it turned out, it was a perfect illusion.

Thanks, Gaga.

I, too, was stunned by the outcome like I was groped by a 70-year-old real estate tycoon.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh pretty much described how I felt as the results came in when she tweeted:
“It’s like watching a train wreck about to happen in slow motion, and you can’t do nothin’ about it.”
Maybe we can blame the train wreck on a “rogue train”, like the one blamed last week for the disruptions plaguing the MRT Circle Line.

Hey, that could be the next Star Wars movie — Rogue Train One: An SMRT Story.

I’m so traumatised by a Trump presidency being forced onto the world that I feel like writing to Teenage magazine’s Dear Kelly for advice on how to cope.

Yes, maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t ask for it — even though I sort of predicted the Republican’s victory six months ago.

In May, I wrote in this column about Mr Trump:
“The former star of The Apprentice TV show is about as likely to beat Mrs Hillary Clinton as a football team that barely escaped relegation last season is to win the English Premier League.”
Thanks, Leicester City.

To try and make sense of it all, I reached out to an American friend whom I suspected of being a Trump supporter, based on a Facebook post or two.

She lives in a rural part of Wisconsin, a state which has consistently voted for the Democratic presidential candidate since 1984 — until now.

She’s Caucasian, 41, and is studying to be a nurse while working part-time. Married with three grown children including a daughter with Down Syndrome, she also volunteers with the Special Olympics.

On Thursday, I messaged her on Facebook: “Did you vote for Trump?”

She confirmed my suspicion with a quick “Yup”.

I asked: “What do you like about him?”

She replied:
“I like the fact that he’s not a career politician and I think that we need someone in who is going to work for the country.

“I like the fact that he wants to repeal Obamacare because the American people who are forced to have it can’t afford the premium much less the deductible.”
I then tried to ask as diplomatically as possible: “So all the negative character stuff wasn’t a factor?”

She replied:
“Was I happy about that? No. But everyone at some point has said stuff that he did, women included.

“Is everyone perfect? Hell no!

“I like the fact that he wants to go in and try to get rid of ISIS. Our military is in places that we should never have been in the first place.”

Answering a question I didn’t ask, she added: “You sure as heck know I’m far from racist, a bigot, uneducated, etc.”

Rather undiplomatically, I countered: “Well, yeah, but Trump is.”

She replied: “That’s what the media portrays. He’s done a lot of good things that people don’t look at.”

She went on to criticise president Barack Obama and Mrs Clinton, but claimed she is neither a Republican nor a Democrat: “I think too many people have blinders on because they are only Democratic or Republican and don’t look at the broad picture of it all.”

But she acknowledged:
“Trump is by no means someone who has the best character. But if he can implement changes and make things better, then great.”
So for my friend and the 60 million Americans who voted for the man behind Trump University, it certainly wasn’t the end of the world even as Lady Gaga and thousands of anti-Trump demonstrators protested around the country after the election.

I, for one, am glad that the world didn’t literally end because then I would have missed out on all the great Singles Day sales on Friday.

I read that ex-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is replacing the Donald on Celebrity Apprentice.

Could The Terminator star one day become the leader of the free world too?

I have seen T2: Judgment Day.

Never mind Trumpocalypse.

Will you be ready for Arniegeddon?

- Published in The New Paper, 13 November 2016

Sunday 6 November 2016

Dante's Circle (Line) of Hell: No Internet access scarier than any killer clown

I called it.

No, I did not predict that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series last week — although it did take some foresight for me not to throw away my dusty 28-year-old Cubs cap which my head outgrew.

I am not the movie Back To The Future Part II.

Unlike a US baseball team claiming its first championship in 108 years, what I anticipated was closer to home and has occurred before more recently than in 1908.

In September, I wrote in this column about a mysterious signal interference that plagued the MRT Circle Line, causing delays for five straight days.

Before the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT could find the cause of the problem, the problem disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.

I wrote:
“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.”
Flash forward to last Wednesday.

“The mysterious signal interference which interrupted service on the Circle Line MRT two months ago is back,” reported The Straits Times.

Thousands of commuters were affected during the morning rush hour. SMRT said that preliminary findings revealed a communications glitch similar to the one that disrupted service earlier.

What did I tell ya? Did I call it or what?

This time, it got even worse for commuters when LTA announced on Friday: “Due to continued ongoing tests, mobile services along the Circle Line will be temporarily suspended today.”

No mobile services means no phone calls, no texting, no sexting, no Internet and no Pokemon Go.

So not only are you going to be late for your appointment due to the train delay, you can’t inform anyone that you’re going to be late.

You can’t even kill time waiting for the train to move again by going to the SMRT Facebook page to complain about the lack of mobile services because of the lack of mobile services.

The Circle Line has pretty much become one of Dante’s Circles of Hell.

Please excuse my atas literary reference. I just saw the Tom Hanks movie, Inferno.

LTA has apologised for “the inconvenience to passengers”, which unfortunately, it has become very practised at.

But the Government agency wasn’t the only organisation to appear contrite last week.

Supermarket chain Cold Storage also had to say sorry after someone tweeted a photo of a Cold Storage sign that said “Deepavali promotion: Beef less 38%” and commented sarcastically: “Cultural understanding eh?”

I didn’t see that one coming.

Why the beef with Cold Storage’s beef promotion?

The Straits Times helpfully explained: “Hindus generally abstain from eating beef as they regard the cow as sacred.”

Plus, I would add, Deepavali is a Hindu festival.

Cold Storage was quick to throw under the bus (and not the train because it was delayed) a “junior staff member” who put up the sign and “overlooked the cultural sensitivity”.

The company said:
“We have since explained and coached him on the cultural sensitivity and he assured us that he had no intention to disrespect the Hindus.

“We also took this opportunity immediately to coach all our team members to be mindful of cultural sensitivities in Singapore.”
One hopes this mean there won’t be a pork promotion in the supermarket next Hari Raya.

At least no one was in blackface.

While promoting beef during Deepavali may not be the best idea, surely there isn’t a better time than Halloween week to dress up as a scary clown and startle random strangers in public?

Apparently, the police didn’t think so. Which led to probably the most unexpected apology of the week.

Mr Joel Wong, 19, said sorry after he and his friends were hauled up for questioning after posting videos of their killer clown prank.

Hey, if you really want to frighten Singaporeans, just tell them they can’t access the Internet.

The horror, the horror.

While mobile services returned yesterday on the Circle Line, LTA chief executive officer Chew Men Leong is leaving. Friday will be the last day for the former Chief of Navy.

I’m sure if the MRT were built on water, Mr Chew would have solved all the problems.

So maybe his replacement, Mr Ngien Hoon Ping, a former army general, will have better luck.

Wait, didn't SMRT chief executive officer Desmond Kuek also used to be an army general?


Does this mean the MRT will be breaking down for another 108 years?

Don’t ask me.

What am I? A fortune teller?

- Published in The New Paper, 6 November 2016