Monday, 16 September 2019

Peel The Onion: Could Media Literacy Council be right? Satire can be fake news? Yes, but...

Why did the Media Literacy Council (MLC) say that satire was fake news?

I blame Mrs Lim Hwee Hua.

Remember her?

You should. She is the first woman to become a full minister in Singapore when she was promoted to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009.

But she was voted out in the 2011 General Election after her People’s Action Party team lost Aljunied GRC to the Workers’ Party.

And that might have been a good thing.

Because the next year, she shared fake news on Facebook.

The article was about then US President Barack Obama complaining about partisan politics and asking a crowd at a campaign rally why he would want to serve another term as president of “this godforsaken country”.

If you didn’t read the article too closely, you could easily mistake it for a genuine US news report.

That was why Mrs Lim shared it with the comment:
“Increasingly challenging everywhere, whatever Obama’s campaign strategy might be.”

The problem was that the article was from The Onion, a Peabody Award-winning US satirical newspaper, which Mrs Lim had apparently never heard of.

The article was satire. It was also fake news.

She might have known this if she had read other Onion articles like “Study reveals: Babies are stupid” and “9/11 hijackers surprised to find selves in hell”.

I believe this must be why the MLC posted a graphic that said satire was a type of fake news, which got the council into so much trouble recently.

It was all Mrs Lim’s fault.

Wait, you may ask, doesn’t this Onion episode illustrate that satire can be fake news and that the MLC was right?

Well, yes and no.

The issue is that even though fake news may be satire, not all satire is fake news.

It could just be local DJ Chris Ho posting on Facebook:
“I’m with you foreigners! Kill the (censored) Singaporeans but not my friends, can?”
That actually happened in 2014. He called it his “little satirical remark”.

But I think the larger issue is that in Singapore, “fake news” has become a loaded term. (And not because of Donald Trump.)

We now conflate “fake news” with “Pofma”, a cute name for what many consider a scary new law, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, passed four months ago.

To many, by equating satire with fake news, the MLC appeared to be saying that satire came under Pofma and that would make people like Ho and beloved self-described “satirist” Mr Brown criminals to be prosecuted. (I’m safe because I’m merely an alleged humour columnist.)

To assuage such fears, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugan said last Friday:
“The suggestion that satire is covered by Pofma is erroneous. We’ve been very clear, I’ve been very clear, both in Parliament and outside, Pofma does not cover satire.”

But he defended the MLC as “good people” even though this is the council’s second Facebook mishap in two years.

Last year, it was “Signs your child is a cyberbully” that got the council cyberbullied.

This year, it is fake news about satire being fake news from the organisation formed by the Government in 2012 to educate us about online hazards like cyberbullying and fake news.

The MLC has apologised for the post.

But Mrs Lim Hwee Hua didn’t for sharing fake news seven years ago.

In those carefree pre-Pofma days, after she realised the news article she shared was fake, she just wrote:
“Indeed, it is increasingly challenging everywhere – to foster a trusting relationship between government and people, and between people and people, and to differentiate between real and not-so-real news.”
She could be one of those people who thought The Noose was the news.

Her gaffe is even mentioned on the Wikipedia page about The Onion.

I guess it was fortunate she was voted out of office by then because as a former minister who shared fake news rather than a sitting minister who shared fake news, she was a little less embarrassing to the Government.

Then the Media Literacy Council came along.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 September 2019

Monday, 2 September 2019

Woman forced open MRT door because of 'autistic sister': 'Hoax' claim also a hoax?

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said last week that commuters may have to wait longer for trains during off-peak hours.

He must be expecting more delays caused by desperate women forcing open doors in MRT stations and getting stuck between them.

That last part is not true. It’s my attempt at a joke. You know that – I hope.

I don’t want to be accused of spreading fake news. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned in his National Day Rally speech, POFMA will catch me.

Already too much fake news has been going around lately.

There was no ceiling collapse in Jewel Changi Airport or stabbing in Tampines Mall as alleged in a couple of viral videos.

There is no gang war in Yishun, although a man in Yishun was caught trying to steal a bra from a pole hanging outside a second-storey flat with an umbrella, which is unfortunately not fake news and probably more disturbing.

But the viral video of the woman forcing open the MRT doors at the Little India station is legit. We know that because SBS Transit confirmed that the incident happened last Monday at 3.30pm.

People criticised the woman for her anti-door behaviour.

Then a screengrab of a Reddit post by someone named “phong” started circulating.

It read:
“I know this auntie. While everyone here is blasting her, I thought I will provide some context for her actions.

“The lady who scurried into the train first? Her younger sister, who is autistic. Who has a history of wandering off and forgetting her way home.

“Hopefully you will begin to understand her motivations for trying so hard to board the train after her.”
Though it was unverified, many shared the post as fact and vilification turned into sympathy.

Then a Twitter user named EllieTay tweeted a whole thread to claim:
“She is my mother and regarding the story about her chasing her autistic sister is a hoax.”
She explained:
“What actually happened is that she and her friend were rushing to get home… (This was at the time where everyone is also getting home from work) and the MRT was packed with people, my mother’s friend got in first, with my mother from behind didn’t want to be left alone to wait for another train, barged forward and pried open the door which got her stuck.”
EllieTay added:
“When my mother and her friend arrived at their stop, they were approached by the SMRT staff for questioning. I was called in to pick up my mother and have talked to the staff, fortunately they are not asking for any compensation for the door, they only gave a warning to my mother to be more careful.”
So which account is true?

While a couple of websites have reported the tweets, they have not been as widely shared as the “autistic sister” post.

My guess is people are now wary that the tweets claiming that the earlier post was a hoax may be a hoax too. Once bitten, twice shy.

The funny thing is that you can see that reporters from The Straits Times, The New Paper and Channel NewsAsia have replied to the one of EllieTay’s tweets, asking her to get in touch with them, most likely to verify her claims.

Since the news outlets have yet to report the tweets, it’s safe to assume they have not been verified. Don’t want POFMA to catch them and all that.

I find the tweets rather dubious myself.

First, EllieTay said the incident took place when everyone was “getting home from work”, but SBS Transit had said it happened at 3.30pm, which is not when most people leave work.

Second, she said “the MRT was packed with people”, but in the video, the train and the platform were not “packed” – since, you know, it was only 3.30pm.

Third, she said that “SMRT staff” approached her mother and friend for questioning, but the incident happened on the Downtown line, which is operated by SBS Transit, not SMRT.

Okay, maybe she got the two rail operators mixed up, which is understandable enough, but I doubt that the staff members could have so quickly identified and tracked down the mother and friend at a different station. That’s a lot of surveillance, coordination and running around just to give someone a warning.

Also, SBS Transit hasn’t said anything about having spoken to the passengers involved in the incident, which I believe it would if it did.

What do you believe?

What do you want to believe?

An auntie running after an autistic sister is a better story than a mother trying to catch up to a friend.

And that’s what makes fake news so seductive. It’s hard to resist sharing a good story.

Sometimes you wish the news was fake.

Like when the Transport Minister says you may have to wait longer for the train.

Hey, where’s my bra?

- Published in The New Paper, 2 September 2019

Monday, 19 August 2019

‘Cuckoo bird’ cheer at NTU freshman camp: ‘We didn’t know it would become so big’

Maybe they’re really into ornithology.

That’s why they kept repeating the words “cuckoo bird” over and over again.

But the way the young men and women were pointing at their crotch while chanting the words in last week’s viral video suggests that they’re probably more interested in anatomy.

I was their age once, though not so publicly demonstrative of where my prurient interests lay.

When I first heard there was a video going around of inappropriate behaviour at a freshman orientation camp at a local university, I assumed it was the National University of Singapore (NUS) again.

Three years ago, reports of sexualised games at NUS camps led to then Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung declaring that “pretending to ejaculate into the face of a fellow student plays no part” in university education.

Which is always a helpful reminder.

I believe it was the first time an acting minister had ever used the word “ejaculate” in public. (God knows how many times he said it in private.)

NUS was also in the news in April because of the Monica Baey episode, which highlighted the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus, mostly by shower voyeurs.

I also remember the sordid sex-for-grades trial in 2013 involving an NUS law professor and his student.

He took her virginity on his NUS office sofa! She got pregnant! He made her pay for her abortion! She bought him a Montblanc pen and an iPod Touch when the iPod Touch was a thing!

So is it any wonder that by now, whenever I hear there’s inappropriate sexual behaviour at a local university, I’m conditioned to think it must be NUS?

But to my surprise, the video was not taken in NUS – but in Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

What a twist!

An NTU spokesman said last Thursday:
“Looking at the video, the cheer is not in line with the standards set at NTU, as it runs contrary to the values of safety, respect and inclusiveness which are emphasised in the university’s transition and orientation programme.”
So how did it happen?

I asked a person who was actually there when the video was taken.

She said the cheer took place in a lecture theatre on Aug 8, the last day of the camp organised by the business school.

The NTU student added: “It was during a cheer fight when they were running out of cheers.”

A “cheer fight” is a game where groups of students try to top each other by coming up with louder, more entertaining and frequently more outrageous cheers to get a bigger reaction for their performance.

Someone happened to take a video of this one and posted it online where it went viral.

“We didn’t know it would become so big,” the student said.

I asked if anyone there was offended by the cheer.

She said: “Everyone kind of laughed it off because it was part of the cheer fight and nobody really said anything.”

I spoke to another NTU student who recently attended a different faculty camp as a freshman, and she said she heard cheers using the Hokkien term for vagina, you know, the one with the initials C and B. (Coincidentally, also the initials for “cuckoo bird”.)

So the lewd cheer in the video was not an isolated case.

She said the obscenities in the cheers were a “culture shock” for her, but she didn’t complain.

Well, at least no one pretended to ejaculate into anyone’s face. Right? (Please don't let a video of someone ejaculating into someone’s face show up.)

I’m not sure which is worse, but Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has yet to comment on whether shouting the local slang for male genitalia while thrusting and gyrating your hips in unison is part of university education.

After all, the cheer could just be an over-enthusiastic homage to Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel-turned-1975 Oscar-winning movie starring Jack Nicholson.

Three geese in a flock, one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo bird’s nest.

Or something like that.

I guess it would be easier just to say “cuckoo bird” two dozen times.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 August 2019


After Monica Baey: My daughter is in NUS, should I be worried?

Minister says 'ejaculate', thanks to rapey NUS freshman orientation games

Sequelitis: Darinne Ko is no Cecilia Sue (and farewell, Yam Ah Mee)

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Did a 'Singaporean farmer' really propose to girlfriend with ring on cow’s teat? Sh-udder

I believe it started with this Aug 6 Daily Mail report “Man proposes to his girlfriend by putting ring on a cow’s udder”:

The only mention of Singapore is in this paragraph:
In the post, shared with 18,000 members of the global Facebook group 'That's it, I'm ring shaming', a young woman from Singapore shared a picture of an engagement post that had come up on her Facebook feed.
That just means that someone in Singapore posted the picture, which could be from anywhere.

But that somehow became the headline "Singaporean Farmer Proposes to Girlfriend By Putting Engagement Ring on Cow’s Teat" on NextShark.

Which in turn became this bit in James Corden's monologue on his Late Late Show on Thursday.

But how true is this story? Was it really a "Singaporean dairy farmer"?

Well, there are cows in Singapore and at least one dairy farm that we know for sure.

But I call bullshit.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Spacebib apologises for fat-shaming e-mail

Speaking of apologies...

I subscribe to the mailing list of Spacebib, an online platform for running events like Shape Run and Hello Kitty Run.

Yesterday, I received this e-mail below from Spacebub with the subject line, "I hope I never get fat".

Dear Sm,

Everyone hates getting fat. But how many of us really do something about it. This email isn't a typical type of inspirational email or those transformation case studies to encourage you to lose weight.

The amount of time you wasted being unhappy about your weight is astronomical. What a waste. Because, you will learn that nobody care if you're fat except you. Well, maybe your mother cares, but no one else.

For a lot of people, their weight is something they can have a little bit of control over by adjusting their diet and exercise regimen. But the reality is, your health is what’s important, not the number on the scale. When you make being healthy your number one priority, you’ll be surprised how little that number matters.

So these are a few fantastic running events to get you moving in a healthy way.

  1. Run For Singapore Online Challenge: Sign up now and start running anywhere and anytime to contribute to the total distance target. So far more than 10,000km out of the 54,000km has been reached. (Biggest Singapore running movement)
  2. Double Seventh Festival Online Race from 7 Aug to 22 Aug at Anywhere. Run with your partner and celebrate by earning your first ever glow-in-the-dark finisher race medal. (Registration ends today)
  3. Batman Run Series Singapore on 21 Sep @ 6pm at Marina Barrage. Get a Batman fanny pack if you sign up at Spacebib. (Limited to the first 2,000 participants)
  4. International Cat Day Online Race 2019: Celebrate International Cat Day on 8 August with a run for your furry friend. (Cat video not included)
  5. UD SG-Ultra Marathon 2019 on 19 October at Gardens by the Bay East. Long distance running is the best way for you to lose weight. (Moderation is important.)
  6. BFF Run on 6 October @ 7am at Bedok Reservoir Park. Run together with your best friends and lose some weight together. (Running with friends is fun)
  7. Shape Run on 25 Aug at Kallang Practice Track. Yes, as the event name say, great way for you to keep in Shape.
  8. NERF Action Xperience Online Race 2019: Gear up and join us in preparing for the launch of World's first NERF Action Xperience at Marina Square at the end of the year. (Great for family to get fit together.)

Remember beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and your happiness shouldn’t be based on how much you weigh.

With Love,
The Spacebib Team

Two and a half hours later, I received another e-mail from Spacebib. This time the subject line was "Previous email".

Dear Sm,

We are embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry for the previous email that was sent to you titled "I hope I never get fat".

At the heart of our mission is the idea that we are inspiring people in a positive way. We don't say this because it sounds nice. It's the goal that everyone at Spacebib works towards every day.

Bias and insensitivity have no place at Spacebib, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, the previous email has caused some unhappiness. This is saddening because we know we should have made our content in a clear and sensitive way.

We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused and we take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly.

We will be more sensitive and scrutinise our future communications to prevent such incident from happening again.

Nothing is more important than supporting you in your running journey and we hope you will give us the opportunity to once again provide you the positive Spacebib Experience you have come to expect from us.

The Spacebib Team

I guess Spacebib must have received complaints that the earlier e-mail was fat-shaming people despite the last line about "happiness shouldn’t be based on how much you weigh".

But hey, at least no brownface.

Monday, 5 August 2019

E-Pay Dennis Chew brownface ad controversy: Everyone is apologising – well, except...

Dear Dennis Chew,

How are you doing, man?

Congratulations on playing Aunty Lucy for all these years. Who knew you could build a career on ripping off Jack Neo’s Liang Xi Mei?

What a week it has been, right? It seems like everyone and their ad agencies have been apologising as a result of that E-Pay ad you did. Some more than once.

Well, everyone except you.

Your employer Mediacorp and the creative agency Havas Worldwide said in a joint statement on July 28:
“We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused.

“The message behind this advertising campaign is that e-payment is for everyone. For that reason, Dennis Chew, well-known for his ability to portray multiple characters in a single production in a lighthearted way, was selected as the face of the campaign.”
In this case, “everyone” in the ad meant Chinese men in drag and/or brownface holding a plate of food. That seems like a rather tiny demographic.

How does it feel to be the face of a lighthearted racist campaign?

Nets, one of the organisations behind E-Pay, also apologised “for any hurt that its campaign has caused”.

Then Havas apologised again while Mediacorp released a separate statement:
“The portrayal of some races in the advertisement was done in an insensitive fashion. We take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly.”
YouTubers Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas also apologised for their rap video made in response to the ad. This was after Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam criticised both the ad and the video – but the video more harshly.

However, the siblings’ apology was called out by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as “mock, insincere” because it was “a spoof of an earlier apology issued by Havas”.

So the video makers apologised again on Saturday, this time using the words “sincerely” and “unconditionally”. MHA has yet to respond on whether it’s another spoof.

On the same day, writer Edwin Yeo apologised after writing an article for the Singapore Kindness Movement that said “casual racism” was “okay”, among other things.

Et tu, Singapore Kindness Movement?

That’s like seven apologies in seven days over one thing. It must be a record of some sort.

(UPDATE: Singapore Kindness Movement General Secretary William Wan has also apologised.

So it's now eight apologies in nine days.)

I am still waiting for apologies from Enterprise Singapore, National Environment Agency, Housing Board and JTC Corporation. They are the other organisations behind the E-Pay thing, along with Nets.

They must be wondering what the hell they got themselves into.

Here they are, just trying to get people to use a card or phone instead of cash to pay for food, and suddenly they’re enmeshed in this messy debate about racism and majority privilege in Singapore because of one ad.

All they want is for you to pay for your prata with a QR code, no brownface required.

Now E-Pay will forever be associated with being racist. I believe some drastic rebranding is in order.

And, of course, another missing apology is from the brownface that started it all – yours.

But was it really your fault? I mean, you were probably only following Mediacorp’s orders, right?

Yeah, that was the same kind of excuse the Nazis used.

I’m trying to remember whether James Lye ever said sorry for VR Man.

Would an apology make a difference anyway? Even a sincere, unconditional one?

While some have hailed the Nair siblings as champions for the under-represented, you’ll always be the Chinese guy who wore brownface in that ad no matter what.

Perhaps you can take comfort in the careers of your Mediacorp colleagues Shane Pow and Desmond Tan, which have survived, if not thrived, after they were separately called out for going blackface in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

Both are still starring in TV shows on Channel 8 like nothing happened. Did they ever apologise?

But then Pow and Tan never appeared in an ad that was described as “in poor taste” by the Law and Home Affairs Minister. Yikes.

Oh well, you still got Aunty Lucy.

Hope I don’t have to apologise for this column.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 August 2019

Dear Mr Ong,

I am a retired 66-yr old uncle, and I had spent many years watching Gurmit Singh in various portrayals - as a chinese man, chinese woman, malay man, malay woman, indian man, indian woman, caucasian man, caucasian woman - on TV, roadshows, newspapers, magazines, Internet, stage, advertisements, brochures, flyers, posters, postcards, etc. And what happened. Nothing happened. No problem. Gurmit Singh was not wrong. Mediacorp and its agencies were not wrong.

Gurmit Singh had done it all. Nobody thought there was anything wrong.

I hope you find time to compile old images of Gurmit Singh in his various portrayals and write an article about the evolving perception of racism in Singapore and other countries.

The person hardest hit is not Dennis Chew but Gurmit Singh bcos after what happened last week, Gurmit Singh has to stop what he does best, which is portraying various ethnic men and women.

Where do we draw the line now, after what happened last week? Jack Neo cannot portray Liang Po Po? Dennis Chew cannot portray Auntie Lucy? Kumar cannot portray you-know-what? Wang Lei (getai king) cannot portray "Kong Foo Po" (cantonese granny)? Thank you.

i was at Pink Dot @ Hong Lim Park on Sat-29-June-2019.

Preetipls and her brother were on stage talking and rapping, stirring up the crowd with hate speech that would make Amos Yee blush.

You lack insight to comment on their latest video if you weren't at that Pink Dot event to witness what they did there.

I believe your media company has recorded plenty of footages of what the siblings talked and rapped about at that event. Why don't you look at those recordings?

You should monitor closely how they are hijacking various events and platforms to promote their private agenda of hate.

This is my last email to you on this matter. I will not be drawn into politics and hate speech, as I don't have the energy and time to do so, considering my frail health and lack of resources in my sunset years.

Do you still want Dennis Chew and Mediacorp to apologize? Then what is your view on Gurmit Singh and Jack Neo and Kumar and Wang Lei, etc? Where you draw your line?

UPDATE: Dennis Chew finally apologised on Instagram on Aug 7, two days after this column was published.

Monday, 22 July 2019

This is how they stop us: Storming ST Kinetics for aliens? Sorry, ST Kinetics doesn't exist

I’m spacing out.

What year is this? 2019 or 1999?

Is that why people are suddenly talking about extraterrestrials like it’s pre-Y2K when we were obsessing over The X-Files on TV? The show was like the Stranger Things of the 90s but with more paranoia and less Winona Ryder.

Or is it 1969?

Is that why I’m seeing all this news about the first man on the moon? Oh, it’s the 50th anniversary.

Ironic, isn’t it? We can put a man on the moon, but we still can’t use bitcoin to hire a hitman on the Dark Web to kill our ex-lover’s boyfriend without getting caught.

But the lunar landing’s golden jubilee is not why we suddenly have celestial beings on our minds.

Nor is it due to Men In Black International because that movie was so last month and not very good.

No, aliens are cool again thanks to a joke Facebook page called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us”, which went viral last week like a certain app that can make your face look old and send your personal data to the Russians.

Area 51 is a classified US Air Force facility where conspiracy theorists believe the US government is secretly doing stuff with flying saucers and their other-worldly occupants.

You would know that if you’ve watched The X-Files.

Or Independence Day. Or Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

Or the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Little Green Men”.

More than 1.8 million users have supposedly confirmed on the Facebook page that they are “going” to “storm Area 51” on Sept 20.

Although I’m one of the 1.8 million, it may shock you to learn that I may not actually go. The main reason is Area 51 is in America, which is very far.

Fortunately, for those in Singapore, someone has created a “Storm ST Kinetics, They Can’t Stop All Of Us” Facebook event page.

ST Kinetics is in Boon Lay, which is much closer.

Why ST Kinetics? Because it manufactures advanced military products for the Singapore Government, possibly using alien technology, who knows?

The event page has these instructions:
“We will all meet up at the ST Kinetics Main Entrance and coordinate our entry. If we do our contact drills, we can dodge all their SAR21s and Terrexes. Let’s see them aliens.”
More than 1,700 have indicated that they’re “going”. More than 3,400 are “interested”.

Interestingly, while Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned us about using FaceApp, he has yet to warn us against storming ST Kinetics.

But before committing, I messaged a friend who works at ST Electronics to find out whether he can provide any inside intel on ST Kinetics since both companies are under Singapore Technologies, which is what ST stands for.

His reply shook me to the core of my very soul.

“No more ST Kinetics,” he wrote.

Reality shifted. It was as if I was in an alternate universe.

An entire company just warped itself out of existence to escape being stormed by 1,700 alien hunters? Maybe ST Kinetics does have UFO tech and really doesn’t us to know about it.

Actually, as my friend explained, ST Kinetics has been renamed ST Engineering Land Systems since June last year. Just as the company he works for has been renamed ST Engineering Electronics.

The confusion arises because if you search for “ST Kinetics” online, much of the information has not been updated, including on Wikipedia and Google Maps.

Somehow, “Storm ST Engineering Land Systems” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

But the only way you can storm ST Kinetics on Sept 20 now is if you build a time machine using alien technology and travel back two years to storm ST Kinetics on Sept 20, 2017.

I sent my friend a link to an article about the “Storm ST Kinetics” page and he was intrigued.

He messaged back: “Hope my pass can sneak in…”

My hero! He must have realised that just because ST Kinetics isn’t called ST Kinetics any more, it doesn’t mean the arms manufacturer isn’t hiding alien secrets.

In the end, one man may accomplish what 1,700 or 1.8 million can’t. No storming required.

The truth is out there in Jalan Boon Lay.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 July 2019

UPDATE: The “Storm ST Kinetics, They Can’t Stop All Of Us” Facebook event page has been renamed “Thoughts & Prayers For Aliens At ST Kinetics” with this note:
As you all know, ST Kinetics is no πŸ™…‍♂️ Hong Lim Park so storming ST Kinetics counts as unlawful assembly.

As such, let us put our hearts πŸ’• and minds 🧠 together as one πŸ‘½ alien loving congregation to pray πŸ™ for the hearts and souls of the trapped aliens living within the confines of those grey walls.

We believe in the great power πŸ’ͺ of thoughts and prayers to right all wrongs in our society and if it doesn't work maybe we can shrug it off as not part of some divine will 🀷‍♂️ hopefully, if the divine power be willing, allow us to clap some alien cheeks along the way.

comment "thoughts and prayers πŸ™" to send virtual help to these poor aliens. 1 like = 1 thought, 1 share = 1000 prayers.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Cryptopsy in Singapore: I wore a Hello Kitty shirt to a death metal concert and didn’t die

On March 7, the Singapore concert by Swedish black metal band Watain was cancelled by the authorities at the last minute.

I and presumably most of Singapore had never heard of Watain before. Only 150 were expected at the concert.

The cancellation was largely attributed to a petition by a Rachel Chan to “ban satanic music groups Watain and Soilwork from performing in Singapore”.

Soilwork’s concert is in October. I and presumably most of Singapore had never heard of Soilwork before.

But Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said: “The petition per se did not influence the decision.”

Even so, two months later, the petition was updated to include on the ban list the death metal bands Pestilence and Cryptopsy plus an event called Metal United World Wide.

I had never heard of Pestilence or Metal United World Wide before. The shows were last month.

But I have actually heard of Cryptopsy. I own one of their albums, The Best Of Us Bleed.

You know how we all go through a phase where we seek out music that would annoy our parents? I went through that last year. I was 51.

I wouldn’t say I “stan” for Cryptopsy, but I like their album.

After news spread that Cryptopsy was added to the petition, the Canadian band responded on their Facebook page to the “potential banning” in Singapore:
“We as a band have no say or opinions when it comes to any sort of religion. We believe that everyone should choose their own paths in life.

“The lyrical & visual content in our music is a parody of the extremity of our music. It is a theatrical representation of the brutality and has been created to shock and awe as much as the drumming, guitar & bass riffs.

“We are in no way encouraging our fans to act out any of the content our art depicts.

“For us, our music and visual imagery is in no way worse than most of the Hollywood movies that are available today.”

Way to throw Hollywood under the bus, guys. Could a petition to ban horror movies about killer dolls be next?

Annabelle and Chucky in the same week? Come on, Hollywood, space them out!

To show my support for Cryptopsy, I bought two tickets to their concert at The Substation last Friday night. I paid $75 each, which is still much less than a U2 ticket or so I keep telling myself.

I forced my 19-year-old daughter to go with me. She prefers Bastille and K-pop.

She sported a black Snoopy T-shirt while I rocked a white Hello Kitty Run T-shirt because wearing black to a metal concert is so basic – even though neither of us had been to one before.

There were more than 100 paying audience members in the small Substation theatre, mostly men in black T-shirts and only a few women. No seats. We all stood.

As expected, the music was very loud and the singing consisted mainly of growls without any discernible words. I couldn’t tell the songs apart. The repetitiveness made my daughter sleepy even though she used ear plugs.

But I enjoyed myself, watching the fans stage dive, crowdsurf and wince in pain when they crash to the floor. I just had to be careful not to let any metalhead land on me.

My daughter and I got violently jostled a few times by slam dancers as we were standing too close to the mosh pit, but we’re okay.

In between doing the windmill with his buttock-length hair, Cryptopsy frontman Matt McGachy alluded to the petition when he urged Singapore not to let anyone tell us what we can and cannot listen to. I’m giving you the censored version of what he said.

After the hour-long performance, I queued up for the meet-and-greet with the band to get a picture with them.

No one commented on my Hello Kitty T-shirt.

I asked if they were told not to play any songs like Watain were. Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier shook his head and joked that nobody can understand what they are singing anyway. So at least they have some self-awareness.

Asked whether they were worried that the concert could have been cancelled like Watain’s, Mounier said that Watain and Cryptopsy are very different bands.

He’s right. Watain is a black metal band while Cryptopsy is a death metal band.

You may ask, aren’t black metal and death metal the same thing?

That’s like asking if Katy Perry and Taylor Swift are the same person. In case you don’t know, they’re not.

Well, at least the concert wasn't cancelled.

The Rachel Chan petition has since been deleted. Could it be because of a petition asking Mr Shanmugam to “get Rachel Chan deported from Singapore”? Who knows?

I wonder whether I should go to the concert by Swedish death metal band Soilwork if it does not get banned.

My daughter says she never wants go to another metal concert. I’ll have to ask someone else. My mother may be free.

- Published in The New Paper, 8 July 2019

Monday, 24 June 2019

How I survived the $4.50 durian buffet

A durian buffet for $4.50?

That’s less than the price of a Mala Burger meal at Burger King.

Even though I’m not a durian lover (we’re just friends), it was an offer I couldn’t resist.

But, of course, there was a catch.

The buffet was at Plaza Singapura and you had to spend at least $45 in a single receipt at the mall to get one $4.50 durian buffet ticket for an appointed 45-minute session.

Why the recurring number 45? Because it’s Plaza Singapura’s 45th anniversary.

Yes, that’s how many years since Singaporeans first heard of Yaohan.

Anyway, a week before the durian buffet, my daughter managed to spend over $90 on a hoodie and too many T-shirts at the Uniqlo outlet so that I could get two tickets because I knew I couldn’t survive a durian buffet on my own.

But my daughter hates durian. My wife hates durian. My son hates spending time with me.

So I asked my mother. She is 78.

If she dies from eating too many durians, at least she would die happy – and fed.

She even came prepared with her own bottle of salt water because, you know, that’s what you’re supposed to drink when you eat durian.

I don’t know whether she had been to a durian buffet before, but I hadn’t.

The Plaza Sing buffet sessions were spread out from last Friday to yesterday. I got tickets for the Saturday session at 2pm.

To get ready for D-Day, I went on Friday to recce a session and gathered some intelligence.

The buffet was held outdoors under a tent in front of the mall, presumably so as to not stink up the building. Queues had formed more than half an hour before the session started. Plastic gloves were provided.

Each person was given four or five pieces of freshly harvested durian of different varieties on a paper tray.

Once you finished eating, you had to leave the tent and queue again for another tray.

You could queue as many times as you wanted up until 15 minutes before the session ended, because by then you wouldn’t be able to get your durian in time anyway.

If you went early enough, you could easily get at least three trays of durian.

On Saturday, my strategy was to re-queue immediately after getting a tray, leaving my durian with my mother. Repeat until time was up. This way, I could maximise my haul and eat later.

Well, that was the plan anyway. After I got my second tray, my mother offered to re-queue in my place so that I could enjoy the fruits of my labour.

But after she returned with another tray, I realised there was such thing as too much of a good thing.

I didn’t want to eat any more durian and neither did she. Her salt water didn’t help.

I had to force myself to finish the last piece.

So even though there was still time to re-queue, I decided to throw in my yellow-stained gloves and surrender.

It had been only 25 minutes.

I fought the durian buffet and the durian buffet won.

We left the tent and went to Tim Ho Wan to recover with dim sum and Chinese tea.

My mother claimed this was the first time I had ever taken her out to eat. (I guess she didn’t count her birthday meals.)

And all it took was a $4.50 durian buffet. (Terms and conditions apply.)

Thank you, Plaza Sing. For your next anniversary, you should bring back Yaohan.

- Published in The New Paper, 24 June 2019

EARLIER: Forbidden fruit is smelliest: I was cast out because I wanted to eat durians

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Fact-checking The Alternative View's post about K F Seetoh, Jewel and me

So The Alternative View posted this yesterday:

Since my name appears in the post, I feel I need to fact-check it line by line.

First line:
In May, after F&B entrepreneur K.F. Seetoh shared a post showing the dwindling crowds at Jewel after the initial hype ... PAP trolls and cronies were quick to bark that it was "fake news" as he had gone on a weekday morning.
For the most part, this is true... except...

It's impossible to confirm whether it was "PAP trolls and cronies" who were "quick to bark". It could be just people wanting to get all the facts right.

Also, I want to point out that even quicker were the people who immediately derided Jewel as a "white elephant" in response to Seetoh's post.

It was only later when commenters started questioning what time Seetoh's photos were taken that he revealed that it was at 9.30am.

So while he did share a post "showing the dwindling crowds at Jewel after the initial hype", Seetoh subsequently amended his post to add that he was referring specifically to "pre-opening" hours.

He also added: "I see the usual crowds closer to opening and regular hours..."

Which contradicts the "dwindling crowds" claim in The Alternative View post.

Granted, Seetoh also added "The decline is slow and real", but this is stating the obvious because of course the crowds would decrease from opening day. At least "the decline is slow" rather than fast.

Finally, he added: "I feel for the tenants, esp the 24/7 ones."

So apparently, this was what his post was really about, not "dwindling crowds" per se. In a reply to a comment, Seetoh wrote: “If nobody at some hrs..why make them open 24/7 in these depressed manpower conditions.”

Which I guess is a fair point.

Here is Seetoh's post:

Second line:
One notorious IB even went on a weekend to "prove" him wrong.
This is accompanied by sceenshots of my column on The New Paper website with the headline: "S M Ong: Fake news? Explaining K.F. Seetoh's Jewel post".

I'm not an "IB" if it means what I think it means. As in I am not a member of the PAP Internet Brigade, paid to rebut anti-PAP views online.

I'm just a guy who every two weeks, has to come up with something to write about in 500-700 words for my column and that week, Seetoh's Jewel post was it.

In fact, I considered headlining the article: "Fake news? Defending K.F. Seetoh's Jewel post", but decided to go for something more neutral instead. If I had stuck with my orginal headline, I probably wouldn't have to write this blog post. People mostly just read headlines anyway.

You may argue that simply by writing for The New Paper, I’m an IB by default. If that is your perception, no amount of denial on my part is going to make a difference. I could point to some not so pro-establishment articles I have written, but who cares?

As for whether I'm "notorious", that's an opinion and I'm flattered that someone thinks I am.

And I didn't go to Jewel "on a weekend". As I wrote in my column, I went on a Friday afternoon, which is close to the weekend, but not technically the weekend yet.

Also, I went to Jewel not "to 'prove' him wrong".

As mentioned above, Seetoh already wrote in his post: "I see the usual crowds closer to opening and regular hours..."

So if anything, I went to Jewel to prove him right.

Third line:
But now PAP's own MSM are reporting that indeed the hype at Jewel appears to be dying down.
This is accompanied by screenshots of two Today reports:

Is Today "PAP's own MSM"? Not factual but I would call it a fair assertion. (See "Here Today, gone tomorrow: Remember the time Mr Brown's column got suspended?")

Is Today "reporting that indeed the hype at appears to be dying down"? Well, no and sorta maybe.

The most recent article, which was published on Friday, is about how restaurants on level 5 of Jewel have little or no business after midnight. This jibes with Seetoh's point that tenants shouldn't be required to open 24/7.

But it has nothing to do with the hype dying down.

Yes, the other Today article can be loosely described as about the dying hype, but it's more specifically about how businesses in the other airport terminals are affected, not Jewel itself.

Moreover, the article was published on May 19, which was before my column (May 27) and before Seetoh's post (May 22).

So it's a bit disingenuous to claim that "now PAP's own MSM are reporting that indeed the hype at appears to be dying down". It’s not “now”. It was four weeks ago.

Also, I just want to say there's nothing scandalous about the hype dying down anyway. That's the nature of hype.

No one expects the crowds to be as big as when Jewel first opened.

But when I was there two days after Seetoh's post, it was still pretty damn crowded.

Some businesses will do better than others. Yes, opening 24 hours or till 3am is probably not a great idea.

And maybe one day, Jewel will become a ghost town which some are eagerly looking for signs for as proof of PAP's ineptitude.

But that day isn't here yet.

Elsewhere in The Alternative View post, there's this line:
One notorious but brainless IB even went on a weekend to join the queue for one of the restaurants and claim that Seetoh was putting out fake news.
I've already addressed the "Notorious" and "IB" part. As for "brainless", yeah, I wish I could be smarter and avoided this contretemps.

In my column, I didn't mention joining any queue. I just sort of said I saw a lot of people in Jewel. And I didn't "claim that Seetoh was putting out fake news". I just reported that one person commenting on Seetoh's post warned that the post may be considered fake news and I expanded on it.

I swear.

Take it from the Notorious S M Ong.

EARLIER: Fake news? Are there no more queues at Shake Shack in Jewel as K F Seetoh seems to claim?

Monday, 10 June 2019

I have reservations: Is Anti-Chope Movement a lost cause?

I have never been a guest of honour. Have you?

I imagine it must be pretty cool. People suck up to you. They want to take pictures with you. You get free food. Where’s the downside?

That was probably what Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu thought when she was the guest of honour at the Kindness Carnival on May 25.

After all, it was organised by the Singapore Kindness Movement. What could be controversial about kindness, right?

At the carnival in East Coast Park that day, new so-called Ground-Up Movements were “inducted” by the Singapore Kindness Movement.

As the guest of honour, Ms Fu took pictures with members of the Ground-Up Movements as well as many other people at the carnival.

That was last month.

Last week, people started making rather unkind comments online about Ms Fu for supposedly “endorsing” one of those Ground-Up Movements just because she took pictures with members of that movement.

That movement is the Anti-Chope Movement.

And let me tell you, people hate it, calling it “inconsiderate”, “thoughtless”, “pretentious”, “counter-productive”, “useless”, “silly”, “self-righteous”, “ridiculous” and “dumbest possible movement”.

If a movement could be cyberbullied, this would be it.

The Anti-Chope Movement was started last year by Ms Katelin Teo, the associate general secretary of partnerships at the Singapore Kindness Movement.

Sharing her origin story on Facebook, she wrote:
“What started out as a pet peeve, I have decided to take action and make a difference in hope to change social behavior, dissuading 'chope-rs' from 'chope-ing'.

“To ‘chope’ is not a life hack. In my opinion, it is an ungracious act carried out by individuals who are conforming to what everyone else is doing and taking to this advantage ‘ Singaporean-tradition’ of reserving a seat for selfish reasons. Reserving of seats are done at restaurants who take reservations - where you have to call or make one online.

“Seats at hawker centres, food courts, coffee shops, cafes and fast food restaurants are meant to be FREE-SEATING, free-for-all, it is a first-come-first get a seat (butt seated) basis.”
I think that means if you want to reserve a seat, reserve it with your butt, not anything else, although technically speaking, that’s not reserving your seat – that’s just sitting there.

To argue its case, the Anti-Chope Movement posted this scenario on its Facebook page:
“It's lunchtime, it's the peak lunch hour at the food court, hordes of hangry humans and you're carrying your tray of hot food... you see an empty seat you make your way there only to find it being "choped"... By tissue packs, lanyards, namecards, keys, water bottle, umbrella, newspaper... You thought it was a public and shared space!
😭😩😀🀯😡😑 .”

Ironically, many arguing for choping used the same scenario of someone carrying a tray of hot food – except to them, choping is the solution, not the problem.

Most of the comments on the Anti-Chope Movement Facebook page are anti-Anti-Chope Movement.

“Trying to understand the reason for labelling the behaviour ungracious. What is the basis for the assertion that tables at kopitiams are ‘first come first seated (BUTT SEATED)’ (emphasis added)? What’s so special about butts?”
Ask Sir Mix-a-Lot.

I suspect the movement is partly a consequence of the April 2017 Straits Times article, “Singapore’s food centre chope culture: Is it practical or plain rude?”, prompted by letters from readers “asking for something to be done about the ‘choping’ of seats at hawker centres”.

ST reported:
“The practice, they said, has led to quarrels and created scenarios where elderly patrons carrying trays of food are deprived of a seat.

“Others argued that tourists who have been brushed away by locals defending their reserved seats come away with a tarnished image of Singaporeans, although the Singapore Tourism Board said it has not received any feedback about this.”

The Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary himself, Dr William Wan, sort of sidestepped the issue by saying:
“While there is nothing to stop people from sitting at tables waiting for their food to come, they should, in the spirit of give-and-take and empathy, offer their seats to those with food in hand.”
Does that mean he’s pro- or anti-chope? Who knows? Perhaps he is too kind to take a stand.

The Anti-Chope Movement doesn’t help its own cause by distributing cards with the “obnoxious” message, “Doing it for years doesn’t make it right.”

Well, it doesn’t make it wrong either. If I’m a choper, that’s not going to change my mind about choping.

As one Facebook commenter put it:
“I would expect an associate secretary-general of the Singapore Kindness Movement to be less self-entitled and privileged to be printing passive-aggressive card that target the wrong issue.

“What’s more worrying is that this exercise of self-entitlement that is the Anti-Chope Movement has received endorsements by senior ministers like Grace Fu.”
And all the minister did was take a few pictures with people at the Kindness Carnival.

I hope the free food was worth it.

- Published in The New Paper, 10 June 2019