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

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Getting free food with my Liverpool T-shirt

It started last month when Liverpool miraculously beat Barcelona 4-0 to overcome a 0-3 deficit in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final.

The win was such an incredible comeback that the day after, two Indian restaurant chains in Singapore, Casuarina Curry and Springleaf Prata Place, offered free prata for any customer wearing a Liverpool jersey.

I regretted not going for the free prata.

Even though I actually wore a Liverpool T-shirt that day, it didn't occur to me to get the free prata because I didn't own a Liverpool jersey. I had a T-shirt.

But then I realised later that I could have at least tried.

I mean, was the restaurant going to make a distiction between a jersey and a T-shirt? Probably any top with the word "Liverpool" would do.

I promised myeelf that if ever such an offer comes along again, I should try to get the free food, even with just the T-shirt.

So after Liverpool finally won the Champions League after 14 years two days ago, I was immediately on the look-out.

And I wasn't disappointed.

The Texas Chicken, An-Nur Shenton Way Famous and Gayatri Restaurant offers were for Sunday only. The Ah Lim Jalan Tua Kong and Casuarina Curry offers were for Monday.

An-Nur Shenton Way Famous and Gayatri Restaurant are too out of the way, so on Sunday, I just went for free two-piece combo meal at Texas Chicken in Nex.

But by the time I got there around 6.50pm, I was told the offer was for the first 100 customers only and I was too late.

I couldn't believe it. I felt so cheated. I checked the Texas Chicken offer on Facebook again.

Well, it did say "while stocks last". Just not that the "stocks" were only enough for 100 customers.

I was crushed.

Not wanting to waste my trip there, I bought the two-piece Sambal meal, which was not bad, actually.

Then as if to add insult to heartbreak, some time between 8pm and 9pm that night, Texas Chicken posted this on Facebook:

So if only I had gone to Nex two hours later than I did, I could've gotten my free meal!

I was upset enough that I commented on Texas Chicken's post:

And Texas Chicken actually replied:

So I messaged Texas Chicken the next morning:

So in a way, I got my free Texas Chicken meal after all.


But my quest for free Liverpool food wasn't over yet.

Ah Lim Jalan Tua Kong and Casuarina Curry's offers were for Monday, ie yesterday.

Ah Lim Jalan Tua Kong is in Joo Chiat, which was too out of the way for me. So I headed for the Thomson Road outlet of Casuarina Curry, wearing my unwashed Liverpool T-shirt for the second day in a row.

I went around 3.30pm to avoid the lunch and dinner crowd.

It was raining.

But I got my free chicken biryani.


Mission accomplished.

Ironically, I'm not even a Liverpool fan. I just bought the shirt to troll a colleague, a real hardcore Liverpool fan.

He owns an actual Liverpool jersey. Probably more than one.

And he didn't get any free food at all.

Maybe I'll give him my $10 Texas Chicken voucher since he went with me to Nex on Sunday.

Maybe I won't.

UPDATE: Got it. (Yes, I'm wearing a Man City shirt to troll my colleague as I gave him the voucher.)

UPDATE: I finally got free Texas Chicken meal by pretending to be a Liverpool fan