Monday, 11 May 2020

Warning from the future: It's not too late to prevent the robot apocalypse

Dear Singaporeans of 2020,

I’m sending you this urgent message from the future to warn you.

Listen to me if you want to live.

In my timeline, robots have taken over. They are sovereign. A robot is not a person. It’s “I, robot”, not “we, the people”.

That’s why robots don’t need to wear a mask when they go to the market.

Being machines, they are not afraid of any virus. They have Norton Antivirus pre-installed whether you want it or not.

It’s the robot apocalypse now for us.

I guess I should be grateful they haven’t turned us into batteries. Yet.

By the way, here in the future, cinemas have reopened and we have seen The Matrix 4. It’s still not as good as the original movie. Keanu Reeves hasn’t aged a day though.

But even John Wick couldn’t save us from the robot apocalypse.

We didn’t see it coming. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were expecting a zombie apocalypse.

So we worried about the wrong apocalypse.

We should have paid less attention to The Walking Dead and more to The Terminator sequels, even the lousy ones after Judgment Day.

We became over-reliant on robots because of the coronavirus.

And I’m not just talking about the Black Mirror robot dog unleashed in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to “assist safe distancing efforts”.

A less canine-like robot was earlier deployed in Bedok Reservoir to tell humans not to loiter in the park.

A hound of the Boston Dynamics-villes was also used at the Changi Exhibition Centre community isolation facility to deliver essential items such as medicine to patients.

As the pandemic dragged on, more robots appeared.

Before we knew it, the machines were taking over the world.

But that’s just in my timeline.

The good news is that it’s still not too late for you to change your timeline and stop the robot apocalypse from happening.

Here is what you must do.

Stay home. Go out only when necessary.

If you do go out, wear a mask and practise safe distancing without requiring a robot dog to remind you.

Don’t verbally abuse National Environmental Agency enforcement officers.

And if you go to court for verbally abusing them, don’t wear your mask over your eyes because you are not VR Man.

Just because you can’t see us doesn’t mean we can’t see you.

Is it any wonder the robots won?

You’re in the endgame now.

Basically, to prevent the robot apocalypse, just don’t do anything that could get you featured on the SG Covidiots Facebook page and possibly remanded at the Institute of Mental Health.

If everyone follows these instructions, the sooner you can say “Hasta la vista, baby” to the coronavirus and the sooner the robots can go back to vacuuming our floors.

Otherwise, you will end up in the same apocalyptic future I’m living in now, where I have to vacuum my own damn floor.

The horror! The horror!

- Published in The New Paper, 11 May 2020

Monday, 27 April 2020

Virus Vanguard aftermath: Paging VR Man, we need you now more than ever

Dear VR Man,

Where are you?

The last time we saw you was in 1998.

(I’m not counting your brief 2015 appearance in the Channel 5 animated series Heartland Hubby because you are not a cartoon – even though you were probably more suited for a kids’ show.)

Remember how in the apocalyptic post-credit scene of Avengers: Infinity War, Nick Fury desperately used his intergalactic pager to page Captain Marvel, whom he hadn’t seen since the 90s?

You are our Captain Marvel.

And you can consider what you’re reading now a page. (Not a web page even though it is. I mean a pager page.)

We need you, VR Man.

We are in a post-bubble tea/McDonald’s apocalypse and we are desperate for a superhero.

He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast and he's gotta be fresh from the fight.

So desperate that last week, our Government introduced its own superhero team, the Virus Vanguard, to fight the coronavirus.

And Singapore responded with a collective “Errrr…”

The team included MAWA Man, which reminds me a bit of you.

Like you, his mask doesn’t cover his nose and mouth, which means he may still get a $300 fine even if he wears his mask when he goes out.

Like you, he has an abbreviation and “Man” in his name.

He is called MAWA Man because he enforces safe-distancing and MAWA stands for Must Always Walk Alone.

That’s something he won’t have trouble doing since the Government has quickly distanced itself from him and his team.

MAWA is also a rebuttal to the song You’ll Never Walk Alone because MAWA Man hates Gerry And The Pacemakers. He prefers the Beatles like any sane person would.

Another similarity between you and MAWA Man is that he was as poorly received as your TV series was 22 years ago.

At least you lasted 13 episodes. The Virus Vanguard didn’t last even a day.

The misstep could have easily been sidestepped.

Another local TV character from the 90s, Phua Chu Kang has already been revived by the Government during this pandemic. Why not you too?

After all, the name recognition is already there, unlike with MAWA Man and gang.

Sure, many people may not have actually seen your show, but who hasn’t seen the 18-second YouTube video where you speed past two policemen so fast that you spin them right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round round round?

Someone even started a petition to get former Mediacorp actor James Lye to play you again to fight Covid-19.

What else does Diana Ser’s husband have to do these days anyway? Play Animal Crossing, drink dalgona coffee and sing Home from the balcony?

The petition says:
“In these uncertain times, we need a true Singaporean Hero to teach us right from wrong and how to wear a mask and not be a Covidiot.

“We need VR Man now, more than ever.”
I agree – except for needing you to teach us how to wear a mask because, you know, your mask covers the wrong part of your face.

The petition has 24 signatures.

Well, it was started only over a week ago.

Wait, I just noticed something. The petition was started by… “VR Man”?

You mean you started your own petition to bring yourself back?

Heehee heehee heeheehee.

We may have a chance against Thanos, I mean, the coronavirus after all.

I guess it’s now all up to James Lye.

Is he a Man U fan?

- Published in The New Paper, 27 April 2020

EARLIER: Why VR Man will outlive us all

Monday, 13 April 2020

Fake news & chat groups: How WhatsApp ruined my childhood with viral misinformation

Dear WhatsApp,

I have stupid friends and relatives.

Actually, my friends aren’t really friends, just people I used to go school with, whom I barely see over the years.

Unfortunately, I am related to my relatives, whom I also barely see over the years.

And this was before social distancing.

You may ask, if I barely see these people over the years, how do I know they are stupid?

That’s a very good question.

The answer is you.

It’s because of you, WhatsApp, that I know how stupid my friends and relatives are.

If you weren’t invented, I would have happily lived my life assuming my friends and relatives, whom I barely see, were people of normal intelligence.

Too bad you did get invented by a couple of former Yahoo employees in 2009, resulting in me being in WhatsApp groups with these friends and relatives, which exposed their stupidity to me by the stupid things they share.

And I'm not just talking IQ-lowering time-wasters like repeated jokes and videos I have avoided on other platforms.

One of my cousins forwarded a message about a doctor who recovered from “Corona illness” by inhaling steam. It even came with a video.

So basically, the treatment for Covid-19 is not so different from how you make char siew pau?

Where’s Pofma when you need it?

It was fake news, but no one in the chat group pointed that out. Not even me, because if I corrected the fake news, it would be all I would be doing.

Your chat groups need more fact-checking than Donald Trump’s press briefings.

Fact check: Yes, Yentl really did tweet about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Hey, no truth is ever a lie.

Then in another chat group, this one made up of former primary school classmates, a covidiot forwarded a message that gargling salt water and drinking warm water can prevent Covid-19.

Thankfully, someone else was un-stupid enough to call it fake news, but then another ex-classmate replied: “Fake or not, no harm trying. Quite basic thing to do.”

What an un-un-stupid thing to say. I was stunned like vegetable.

The thing is, once upon a time, I had such a huge crush on that last classmate.

During lessons, I would stare longingly at the back of her head from across the classroom. She was so pretty and smart.

Forty years later, none of us are as pretty as we used to be. And now I find out she's not as smart too?

I couldn’t be more disillusioned if her voice sounds like Doraemon.

I blame you and your stupid chat groups.

Yes, I know last week, you started limiting the forwarding of viral messages to one chat at a time to slow the “spread of misinformation”. It’s like your own little circuit breaker.

I’m not sure what good it will do. You’ve already ruined my childhood.

Now I’m the stupid one for once being infatuated with a person who says gargling salt water to kill the coronavirus is “quite basic thing to do”.

I’m so heartbroken even the sight of a pink moon can’t make me feel better.

If only Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor can make me an omelette.

I’ll have it to go. I don’t want to be fined $300.

Despite everything, I’m still reluctant to leave your stupid chat groups because they’re the only way I stay in touch with my friends and relatives since, you know, I barely see them.

Well, at least you’re not Zoom.

No stranger on WhatsApp has yet to ask me to show my breasts.

I did all those push-ups in self-isolation for nothing.

- Published in The New Paper, 13 April 2020

Monday, 6 April 2020

How it started: Evolution of The Straits Times coverage of the 'Wuhan virus' in one month

Nowadays, it seems that the news is nothing but the coronavirus. Of course, it wasn't always like this.

This was how it started:

January 1

The first Straits Times print report of the virus was on New Year's Day under World Briefs on page 15:
Sars-like outbreak suspected in Wuhan

BEIJING Chinese experts are investigating an outbreak of a respiratory illness in the central city of Wuhan that some have likened to the 2002-2003 outbreak of Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

The city’s health commission said in a statement yesterday that 27 people had fallen ill with a strain of viral pneumonia, seven of whom were in serious condition. However, the health commission said the cause of the outbreak was still unclear and called on citizens not to panic. ASSOCIATED PRESS
It was a very small story.

See if you can find it on the page.

Two days later...

January 3

January 4

Four days into the new year, Wuhan was on page 1 but only as a side story with more reports on page 8.

January 5

First suspected case in Singapore, but it's just a small story on page 1.

January 6

No virus news on page 1, just a report about the "Wuhan flu" in Hong Kong at the bottom of page 4.

January 7

Back on page 1 but still a small story with another report on page 9.

January 8

Just one foreign report on page 11.

January 10

Shockingly, no news about the virus at all.

January 11

Second suspected case in Singapore and it's reported on page 4.

January 12

Just one foreign story on page 8: China reports first death.

January 13

No news about the virus at all. Zero. It would not happen again.

January 14

Small virus story on page 1 as first case outside China is reported.

January 15

Only foreign reports for the next few days.

January 16

January 17

January 18

January 19

Finally, the virus becomes the lead story on page 1 and it hasn't left the front page since.

January 20

January 21

January 22

January 23

January 24

January 25

January 27

January 28

January 29

January 30

January 31

And that's how the virus went from a small world story on page 15 to the only story we care about in one month.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Singapore should be grateful to Trump: 'Very few' infected here, thanks to his guidelines

Dear President Donald Trump,

How are you holding up? Have you been washing your hands?

No, not because of the Covid-19. But because of all the women you grabbed by the you-know-what.

Luckily, since your hands are so tiny, you need less than 20 seconds to wash them.

You don’t have to sing Happy Birthday twice or even once. Just say the words “happy birthday” and you’re done. Save water.

Do stay healthy. Stop shaking hands. At least you don’t touch your face because of all the spray tan.

Practise social distancing. Ask the First Lady how. She has been doing it for years with you.

Watch where you sit when you eat out even though it’s not true that you could be fined by a Safe Distancing Ambassador. That’s – say it with me – fake news.

I just don’t want you to get sick after all you’ve done for Singapore.

And I’m not talking about you holding the historic US-North Korea summit here in 2018 with the other plus-size world leader with fab hair, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. I got the commemorative nickel-plated zinc coin from Singapore Mint for $36. No regrets.

I’m talking about how you helped Singapore fight the Chinese virus – I mean coronavirus, early on.

We are so grateful. Words are not sufficient to express our appreciation. I need a tissue. Where’s Grace Flu?

Of course you’re too modest and humble to bring it up yourself. It was your White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, Dr Deborah Birx, who let the pussy out of the bag.

During a “virtual town hall” on the US Fox News channel last week, she said:
“Well, remember in Singapore, they took the President’s guidelines and they executed them very early because they could see China next door…

“So very few people became infected in Singapore.”

What a bombshell.

I didn’t know we have been using your guidelines to fight the outbreak all this time.

Singaporeans didn’t get a chance to thank you.

Why did our Government hide this from us?

I thought we were using guidelines from the old Phua Chu Kang Sars Rap video:
  • “Wash your hands whenever you can. Wash with soap, then at least got hope.”
  • “If you're sick, don't go to work even if your boss is a jerk.”
  • “Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. You think everyone want to catch your disease?”

Which are rather similar to a few of your guidelines:
  • “Wash your hands, especially after touching any frequently used item or surface.”
  • “If you feel sick, stay home. Don’t go to work.”
  • “Sneeze or cough into a tissue – or into the inside of your elbow.”

The PCK video came out in 2003. Your guidelines came out earlier this month.

Wait. Does this mean you took the guidelines from our sitcom character?

And our Government took them and released a new PCK music video last week based on those guidelines which are actually from the old PCK Sars video, which was also produced by our Government?

Wow, it’s like a snake eating its own tail. Talk about flu circle.

But I do wonder how our Government could’ve been telling us to wash our hands since January, long before your guidelines came out.

A member of your administration can’t be wrong, right?

After all, according to her, I am able to see China next door. I can even smell the bat soup they’re cooking.

That makes me hungry. I’ll probably get some bak kut teh, which is like bat soup but with less wing. I hear it’s worth breaching a stay-home notice for.

After that, I’ll wash my large hands while singing Imagine.

Before I go, can I just ask you for one favour?

Since you’re the President, can you sign an executive order to make Weird Al Yankovic record a parody of My Sharona called Bye Corona?

Words will not be sufficient to express my appreciation.


- Published in The New Paper, 30 March 2020

Monday, 16 March 2020

Cancel culture: I started working from home last week because of coronavirus outbreak

This column has not been cancelled.


It seems like everything else has been cancelled or postponed because of the coronavirus.

Movies that were supposed to open this month, A Quiet Place Part 2 and Mulan, have been postponed indefinitely.

Next month is No Time To Die for James Bond so the movie has been rescheduled to die another day in November, as 007 is no match for Covid-19.

Fortunately, tomorrow never dies. But what if tomorrow never comes?

It was shipping expert and former Boyzone studmuffin Ronan Keating who said it best: “Life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it.”

Speaking of cute white guys who sing, A-ha cancelled their Singapore concert because even they can’t take on the coronavirus.

Or take the coronovirus on.

Fortunately, the virus also repelled my mortal enemy, quasi-jazz musician Kenny G, from performing here last month.

Unfortunately, it was announced last week that the greatest thrash metal band ever that is not Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer or Anthrax – I’m talking about Testament – cancelled their March 25 concert here.

Fortunately, the Scorpions and Whitesnake still performed here earlier this month because it’s bats we have to worry about.

You know what else is not cancelled? Qing Ming.

Despite the outbreak and advisory about social distancing, my mother still insists on making her annual pilgrimage to Choa Chu Kang Columbarium next month, and my sister and I have to accompany her.

Isn’t there some restriction on events with 250 people or more (not counting the dead)?

It would be rather silly if we end up dead from visiting the dead.

Hey, life is a roller coaster, I remind myself. Just gotta ride it.

Last week, I was on my way to work when I received a call that I didn’t have to go to work any more.

Has work been cancelled too?

Not quite.

Someone in my office has been quarantined and so now everyone, including me, has to work from home.

For the first time since the outbreak, the coronavirus has affected me personally.

Three weeks ago, I found out that someone living on my street was a confirmed case. Even though it was a bit disconcerting, life pretty much went on as usual.

But working from home is a big change for me. No one never expects your life to turn into Fifth Harmony song.

When I received the call, I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad. I just felt disoriented. Life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it.

Going to work without having to “go” to work is weird.

There’s no buffer period during the commute for me to transition from my “home” mode to “work” mode.

What’s the difference between the “home” mode and “work” mode?

The level of forbearance.

Besides saving time and money on the commute, the other obvious advantage of working from home is no dress code.

I could be working naked. (Because Singapore is hot, you know, and I don't have air-conditioning.)

My colleagues could be working naked.

If I just imagine them working naked, should I report myself to HR?

Another benefit is that my colleagues won’t complain about me playing Boyzone a bit too loudly because they’re somewhere else.

It’s a sign of the times, girl.

Could this become the new normal? Do I want it to become the new normal?

I’m just a little old-fashioned, but I still find it more efficient to talk to each other in person than through messages.

Even if I have to put on clothes.

Good thing I don’t have to wear anything to write this column.

Oops. Perhaps it would have been best if I had said nothing at all.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 March 2020

Hello Smong!

Hope you're doing well, and keeping safe. Thanks for making my day - I survive on puns and jokes, and had been hanging on to Arnie's reply to where he got his toilet rolls - Aisle B, back - for a week :) And now, your column today will keep me smiling while I work from home (fully clothed).

Ronan is my favouritest artiste, so I had instantly forgiven him for his shipping gaffe... here's a tribute to his song titles, and also to you for providing the best reason to read Today!

The way you make me feel, giving me brighter days - if I don't tell you now, I might be lost for words. Back in the day without Covid-19, we did not have to stay so far away... Still, I am blown away by the efforts everyone's putting in. I love it when we do the SG-United thing, up until the point I realised it was not Covid-19 related, but Dorscon Pink instead. I cannot say I wouldn't change a thing, or can bear to do it all over again, especially the long goodbye from my dear colleagues - we are on a worldwide mandatory Work From Home order - all promised solemnly to be clothed for our team video calls).

Thank you, and please keep up the great work!

Best regards,

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

People are making the same damn joke about Ronan Keating's 'viral' Instagram post

Yes, I get it already. Ronan Keating says it best when he says nothing at all.

What irritates me about this is that although When You Say Nothing At All is one of ex-Boyzone singer's best known songs, his is not the best version of the song.

The definitive and my favourite version is by bluegrass musician Alison Krauss, whom Keating covered.

Even Krauss's version is a cover of country legend Keith Whitley's original.

So kudos to Black Dot Research for going with another Keating hit.

UPDATE: The Straits Times just went with an old Boyzone favourite.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Don't panic: Someone living on my street has the coronavirus

On Saturday, I finally caved.

I bought a box of 50 masks for $35 from a pop-up store in the basement of Yew Tee Point. (Actually, it was more like a pop-up table.)

So each three-ply mask costs 70 cents. I wonder whether I might have overpaid.

With that kind of money, I could have bought plenty of Asian flat croissants.

Unlike many people, I didn’t join the long queues to stock up for the zombie apocalypse when the Dorscon level was raised to the colour of the US President’s face last month.

I never “sia suay” one.

Admittedly, I have been rather smug about it.

I believe I can’t possibly get the coronavirus since I’m too poor to travel, too godless to attend church and too anti-social to be in close contact with another human being for 30 minutes.

I’m more likely to get pregnant from sperm in a swimming pool or be the next prime minister of Malaysia.

So while I have been washing my hands with soap as advised, I have also been touching my face like crazy, which is not advised. (It’s a nervous tic, okay?)

But that sense of invulnerability was snapped to dust last Friday.

My Thanos was the news that two new confirmed Covid-19 cases reside in Choa Chu Kang – one of them on the same street as me!

That’s literally too close to home. He could even be living in my block. Who knows? That information wasn’t released.

To reassure residents, my Member of Parliament, Mr Alex Yam, said in a Facebook video: “So far there’s no evidence of a community spread within our town.”

He added that the town council had done “one additional deep cleansing” of common areas as a precaution.

“Therefore, there is no need for alarm. There’s no need to panic,” he said.

You know that scene in Inception where Joseph Gordon-Levitt tells the Japanese guy not to think about elephants, which makes the Japanese guy think about elephants?

That was my MP telling me not to panic, which made me think about panicking.

And he said it again later in the video. So if I wasn’t panicking yet, I was reminded a second time.

But I managed to resist this unintended reverse psychology and the urge to hide under the covers of my bed and never come out.

However, I still felt the need to do something – anything – even if it’s just to give me the comforting illusion of control over a situation that is out of my control.

I bought the masks.

They were manufactured in Indonesia, which means they must be good since the country is so far “virus-free”. (UPDATE: Maybe I jinxed it.)

The masks have flowers on them too.

So even if they don’t protect me from Covid-19, at least they look pretty.

That’s 35 bucks well-spent. Or so I keep telling myself.

I just wish I could stop touching my face though.

Or thinking about elephants.

- Published in The New Paper, 2 March 2020

Monday, 17 February 2020

Hey, ministers, stop getting photographed watching other people doing actual work

Dear ministers,

How are you holding up?

You must have your hands full dealing with this Covid-19 thing. Just remember to wash them regularly with soap. Ha!

You should take care of yourselves too, and that’s why I want to offer one tiny suggestion if I may – for your own protection.

Stop having pictures taken of yourselves watching other people doing actual work.

Recently, Choa Chu Kang GRC MP and South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling posted pictures on Facebook of her watching workers cleaning an HDB lift and staircase railing.

I believe the mayor was just trying to reassure her constituents that she was personally making sure the place was properly sanitised after a confirmed case at the block, and also acknowledge the workers who are “working tirelessly to protect us”.

Unfortunately, like the Covid-19 virus, one of her photos went viral last week and for the wrong reasons.

Mr Brown shared the photo with a sarcastic comment: “I feel very reassured by the sheer number of bosses overseeing this cleaning exercise. The Eye Power will ensure the lifts are clean and free of #coronavirus.”

Someone else wrote: “I’d be more impressed if the MPs actually took a turn with the cleaning. To truly understand what the front-line staff deal with and what the citizens of the country deal with.”

I feel bad for Ms Low because she meant well. But she wasn’t the only one photographed using “eye power” since the outbreak.

I have seen pictures of ministers Masagos Zulkifli, Josephine Teo and Ng Chee Meng standing around and watching people clean stuff.

It’s not a good look.

The trend started last month with that epic photo of Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen watching hundreds of SAF servicemen pack masks for distribution.

The photo was posted on Reddit with just two words: “Eye power.”

In case you don’t know what that means, according to, “eye power” is “a phrase frequently used on someone who does not help, but simply stares as though he/she is rendering help through the power of his/her eyes”.

That is, what the ministers were doing in those photos.

I mean, I get it. You’re ministers. We can’t expect you to perform manual labour.

But if you spot a photographer, at least wayang a bit lah. Pick up a washcloth. Wipe something. If only for a few seconds. (Not that you need any advice on how to wayang.)

Or simply pose with people when they are not working.

Here’s an idea – maybe not have your picture taken at all.

That’s the surest way of protecting yourselves from becoming a meme like the Mayor of South West District.

- Published in The New Paper, 17 February 2020

EARLIER: 'I just cannot tahan this new virus from Wuhan': New rap for Phua Chu Kang?