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.