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.