Tuesday 24 January 2017

More than just a voice: Juanita Melson remembered

It's interesting how something can snowball.

So I was working in the newsroom on Sunday night and one of the stories fell through. We had an empty page to fill.

I meekly asked one of the editors whether she knew about Juanita Melson, who had died on Thursday, but it hadn't been reported.

Melson was the voice of the MRT for many years and gave a number of well-known radio DJs a boost early in their careers. (I found out about her death from DJ John Klass's Facebook post.)

I suggested to the editor that we could do a story about Melson to help fill the page.

A reporter was assigned to write the story and it came out yesterday in The New Paper.

Since then, others have picked up the story.

And today, she is on page 1 of The Straits Times.

The paper called her "iconic MRT announcer".

As saddened as I am about her passing, I'm heartened she's getting the public recognition she deserves, albeit posthumously.

And all because a story fell through and a page needed to be filled. It's interesting how something can snowball.

In my Facebook post about her on Saturday, I called her the "original voice of the MRT" to differentiate her from the current voice on the MRT.

But according to the reports, she voiced the MRT annoucements only from 1996 to 2008. The MRT started operating in November 1987. Assuming there were train announcements back then, Melson couldn't have been the "original voice of the MRT".

I apologise for the error.

But of course, Juanita Melson was more than just a voice and I'm fortunate to have met the human being behind the voice.

The "iconic MRT announcer" told me she liked this song:

Monday 23 January 2017

Beware of the pineapple tart: Whither Chinese New Year traditions?

It’s about tradition.

I think.

How many times have you asked people why they’re doing what they’re doing, and their answer is, “It’s tradition”?

So basically, what they’re saying is that the reason for doing what they have been doing for a long time is that they have been doing it for a long time.

I find this particularly true on public holidays.

Why do we waste resources producing a new National Day song every year when we have a surfeit of National Day songs, you know, since we have been producing a new one practically every year?

Well, it’s tradition.

Why do we say “merry Christmas and happy new year” and not “happy Christmas and merry new year”?

There’s actually an etymology behind this, but for most people, it’s just habit.

In other words, tradition.

Why does the Prime Minister have to deliver the May Day Rally speech on May Day?

Because it would be weird if he delivers the May Day Rally speech on Vesak Day.

It’s tradition.

The US had its Inauguration Day on Friday. Although it wasn’t a public holiday, it has its own traditions as Mr Donald Trump was sworn in as probably the least traditional President of the United States.

There’s a joke going around that Mr Trump said: “One week after I take office, China will completely shut down. Factories will stop production, shops will close, stock markets will not trade, and government will grind to a halt.

“The wealthy will flee overseas with their families, citizens desperately trade the RMB for foreign currency, doors all across the country will be plastered with red notices. Supermarket food stock will be depleted and food prices will rise.

“The people who stay will have nothing to do except day-long drinking and gambling. There will be sound of gunfire on the streets for days!”

The Chinese foreign ministry responded: “That’s Chinese New Year, you dumb ass.”

Again, that was a joke. Please don’t share it as news — or even fake news.

Yes, when it comes to traditions, Chinese New Year is traditionally full of them.

But here in Singapore, we seem intent on breaking a few of them of late, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, in the past, I have traditionally queued for a long time at the bank for new notes. Now I queue for a short time at the “pop-up” ATMs instead.

In the past, knowing that many shops would be closed on the first few days of CNY, I have traditionally stocked up on essentials in advance as if preparing for a nuclear holocaust.

Ironically, even though a nuclear holocaust is more imminent than ever now that a former reality TV star can launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at whoever makes fun of him on Twitter, I don’t feel the need to hoard instant noodles this year.

And it’s not just because I don’t use Twitter (that much).

It seems more companies, such as NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong supermarket chains, are keeping their stores open over the CNY period.

But I won’t be buying any pineapple tarts from them. Each tart has 82 calories.

I know that because in recent years, there appears to be a concerted campaign to vilify traditional CNY food, such as pineapple tarts and bak kwa, by telling us how many calories each snack has.

For example, I read somewhere that if you eat just one slice of bak kwa, you have to run 4.22km to work off the 370 calories in that single piece of deliciously evil meat.

This means I need to run at least a full marathon tomorrow in spite of the plantar fasciitis in my left foot. No pain, no bak kwa.

Just yesterday, the Government released a shocking five-second video called Half The Tart, Double The Huat where a woman dangerously throws a knife at a child eating a pineapple tart, cutting it in half (the pineapple tart, not the child).

I get the point.

Over-eating is a CNY tradition more dangerous than a woman throwing a knife at you and some traditions we would be better off without.

But it’s a slippery slope. Where would it end? Who knows what other traditions we could lose in the future?

One day, I may not even be able to humiliate my single relatives by asking them when they’re going to get married.

What would be the point of Chinese New Year then?

It’s about tradition.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 January 2017

Thursday 19 January 2017

Shopping for running shoes? The best place in Singapore to go is...

Last month, it was reported that Nike would stop supplying to smaller shops like those in Queensway Shopping Centre and Peninsula Plaza.

As someone who buys running shoes more frequently than is sane, I shrugged at the news.

A photo posted by SM Ong (@s.m.ong) on

Despite their reputation, I found Queensway and Peninsula Plaza to be horrible places to shop for shoes. They may have the variety and the latest, but the prices suck.

For me, the best place in Singapore to shop for running shoes is actually IMM, near the Jurong East MRT station.

A close second is Changi City Point (behind Singapore Expo) on the other side of the island.

I love the outlet stores.

Even if you don't drive, it's now much easier to get to IMM from the MRT station by walking through Westgate Mall and using the bridges linking Westgate to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital to Devan Nair Institute to IMM.

Here's how to find most of the popular brands at IMM:


I make my pilgrimage to the Nike Factory Store practically every week because the stock moves so fast, I can almost always find new stuff there. (However, I do feel that the similar Nike outlet at Changi City Point is slightly better.)

Look for great deals under $100.


The Adidas Outlet at IMM is much bigger than the ones at Changi and Velocity@Novena, but the selection of running shoes can still be quite limited. For example, I have yet to see the Ultra Boost at any of the outlets. (UPDATE: In 2018, the Ultra Boost and its variants were discounted for the first time.)


The IMM New Balance Outlet is similar to the Changi one.


The IMM Puma Outlet is similar to the Changi one.


The brand may be popular with housewives, but Skechers have been making some pretty legit running shoes in recent years.

The IMM Skechers Outlet is bigger than the Changi one.


June 2017 update: An Asics outlet store has opened here that's bigger than the Changi one.

You can also find a small selection of Asics shoes at Outlet 360.


July 2017 update: An Under Armour outlet opened here and I think it's the only one in Singapore.


You can find these shoes at Royal Sporting House Outlet. (UPDATE: It shut down in June 2019.)


The World Of Sport Outlet has a respectable selection of discounted Mizuno and Salomon shoes.

The Hoka brand was just introduced to the Singapore market last year. So the range of Hoka shoes at the IMM World Of Sport Outlet is still very small but can only grow. (UPDATE: World of Sport stopped distributing Hoka and Salomon in 2019. You can find those two brands at Running Lab in nearby Westgate.)


Sadly, you can't find any Brooks shoes in IMM or even nearby Westgate/JEM malls, but Jurong Point has a Sportslink store with discounted Brooks shoes.

As for Newton and Inov-8, Key Power Sports carries those brands but doesn't have a store in the area.

I got my Altra shoes at Queensway Shopping Centre.

Remember my motto: Never pay full price!


Tuesday 17 January 2017

Lunch With Sumiko: Build-up & aftermath

The first warning sign I saw was in The Straits Times on Thursday, Jan 12, in the form of this half-page in-house ad:

It was to promote The Sunday Times revamp, including Sumiko Tan's new Sunday interview series, Lunch With Sumiko.

The next day, she was replaced by a giraffe (I mean in the ad), but the recently promoted Straits Times executive editor's picture still appeared, albeit smaller.

The day after that, the giraffe was replaced by the shorter-necked Selena Tan, and Sumiko was pictured with Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Perhaps feeling the need to explain why he would be in a picture with Sumiko, the minister posted this on Facebook:

Then on Sunday, after all that build-up, Lunch With Sumiko finally dropped.

Since then, I've read more about the article than the article itself.

Must Share News: Lunch With Straits Times Editor Sumiko Tan Was So Boring, We Lost Our Appetite

Ironically, by discussing (and dissing) Lunch With Sumiko so much, the haters are doing a better job at promoting it than those half-page ads ever did.

What has gone unmentioned is that a week earlier, The Sunday Times ran a somewhat less-heralded interview with the other Education Minister, Mr Ng Chee Meng.

By... Sandra Davie, the senior education correspondent.

Maybe they had brunch.

Read Sumiko Tan: Singapore will miss her when she’s gone

Monday 9 January 2017

Shocking celebrity deaths not 2016's fault (Was George Michael's death predicted by Last Christmas cover photo?)

Finally. It’s over.

2017 is here.

We can’t blame everything bad that happens on 2016 any more.

Yes, David Bowie died last year. Then Prince. Muhammad Ali. Mr S R Nathan. Daniel Ong and Jaime Teo’s marriage.

Not to be confused with Glenn Ong and Jamie Yeo’s marriage, which had perished a few years earlier.

I was more stunned by the news of the former couple’s divorce than a driver encountering a vehicle going against traffic on the expressway.

The lesson here is that if your name is Jamie or Jaime or Jiame or Jaemi or Jimea or, hell, just starts with the letter J, you shouldn’t marry a DJ with the surname Ong.

But 2016 didn’t kill those famous people or anyone’s marriage. Not even Brangelina’s.

2016 was just an innocent bystander who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It got to the point where right after I woke up every morning, I would go to Facebook on my phone just to check what other celebrity had died while I slept.

2016 couldn’t catch a break even in the last week of the year, which was probably the most brutal in terms of celebrity deaths.

George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds died within days of each other.

No, I’m not including the reported death of Mariah Carey’s singing career after her abortive performance on a live TV show on New Year’s Eve. All she wanted for Christmas was for the audio system to be working properly.

But for me, the most shocking death was Michael’s.

It was shocking because he was only 53. That’s just three years older than I am.

It was shocking because he died on Dec 25 when you could hear his song, Last Christmas, being played all over the place and thus, the world’s most morbidly obvious pun was born on Christmas Day

It was George Michael’s last Christmas.

Except that, officially, the 1984 song is actually credited to Wham!, the pop duo Michael was in with Andrew Ridgeley before Michael went solo.

So it’s actually Wham!’s Last Christmas.

Except that as far as I know, Ridgeley is still alive.

But should he be?

If you look at the inside cover of one of the original 12-inch single versions of the song, you will see a photo of Michael in Santa costume fake-crying over Ridgeley in reindeer costume playing dead.

This was 32 Christmases ago.

It is almost as if the photo predicted that a member of Wham! would die on Christmas Day.

Someone more insensitive than I am would say the wrong member did.

Which makes you wonder what kind of secret pact Ridgeley made with the devil.

Is your mind blown yet?

Wait, there’s more.

I have a 12-inch single version of Last Christmas and it was given to me by someone special.

Actually, it was my friend Stewart from the navy, although I do think of him as someone special. We sailed together to Thailand once.

I would like to say he gave it to me last Christmas, but it was actually two years ago and closer to Chinese New Year.

(I’m talking about the 12-inch.)

The vinyl record has been on display on my work desk since 2015 as an ironic homage to 80s kitsch, but now that Michael has died, it has become a poignant reminder of how we take a certain time in our lives for granted until it’s gone.

So as badly as we want to forget 2016 after it took away so many people who meant so much to us, at least it helped us remember why they meant so much to us in the first place.

So for 2017, our new year’s resolution should be to let those who are still with us know how much they mean to us while we still can...

I love you, Stewart!


- Published in The New Paper, 9 January 2017