Monday 13 December 2021

No more New Paper in print, no more column

Last Friday was the last print edition of The New Paper after 33 years.

When the staff were first told about it in July, I was surprised and devastated. I was content to do what I was doing at TNP until I die – or forced to retire.

I started working there in February 2008. That’s 13 consecutive years, which is by far, my longest stretch of working at the same place. Before that, my longest was around four years at Mediacorp. Twice.

After working in television for so long, joining TNP was like going back to my roots.

I had studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin and worked at a student newspaper there as a writer and page layout artist.

I discovered that it was important to me how my articles showed up on the page. I get very upset when the headline doesn’t accurately represent what I wrote.

What many readers don’t realise is that the headline is not usually written by the same person who writes the article.

Which is ironic since many people just read the headline without reading the article and associate the byline with the headline which the writer didn’t write.

So although I set out to be a writer, I became involved in the so-called backend of the newspaper.

And it evolved such that I started doing more backend stuff than writing.

When I first joined TNP, it was as a sub-editor/columnist, but as the years went by and I re-contracted, the “columnist” part of my job title was dropped even though I still wrote the column.

My main job was as a sub-editor. At first, I did some copy-editing which I dislike, but later, mostly just did layout, which was more my jam.

More importantly, I got to lay out my own column and write my own headline.

I didn’t get a regular column right away. My first piece for TNP as a full-timer was about the Mas Selamat escape, for which I was accused of being an apologist for the Government. That was when I learnt firsthand that readers would imagine nefarious motivations and conspiracy theories behind things they see in the paper. Since I wrote the damn thing, I know the only thing behind it was me.

Subsequently, I was given a weekly Sunday column that lasted a few years, but from December 2016, it became every other Monday at my request.

While I appreciated the privilege of having such a platform in a national paper (albeit with a shrinking circulation) and tried not to take it for granted, I came to dread the week my column is due. It was like the Sword of Democles threatening to fall on my head every 14 days. It was a pain in the ass, essentially.

It was such a relief to finish a column and not have to worry about it for at least a week.

But now with the end of TNP in print, the column is done for good and it’s the greatest relief of all.

There’s talk of me continuing the column for the online version of TNP, but I would rather not.

I’m starting work at The Straits Times today as a designer and ST couldn’t care less about me as a columnist.

Writing for TNP online would just be doing extra work that’s not going to help me during my performance appraisal with my ST bosses. I don’t need the additional stress.

I didn’t even feel my TNP bosses cared that much about my column.

So… yah, that’s it.

No more column.

It’s the end of an era and start of a column-free one at ST for me.

Thanks for reading.

Monday 6 December 2021

Do you believe the Raeesah Khan-spiracy theories? If she’s a spy, I’m the next 007

“2021. Best year ever. More drama than Mediacorp produced in its entirety.”

That was how one Reddit discussion title summed it up.

Books Actually, Night Owl Cinematics, Omicron, peacock attack and now this.

Late Friday night, the Committee of Privileges released a report that former Worker’s Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan said in the hearing that the WP leaders had told her to keep to the lie she told in Parliament – that she accompanied a rape victim to a police station to make a police report.

This contradicted statements made by WP leader Pritam Singh at his press conference the day before, where he told reporters he had directed Ms Khan to take responsibility and admit to her lie in Parliament – but that she had disregarded this order.

Reacting to the report, a friend ranted on Facebook:
“Raeesah… what have you done? What are you doing? Were you planted into the WP by the PAP to destroy them?

“Let’s not forget, your father was along for the elected presidency ride… all planned by the PAP...

“Is your whole family working for the PAP?”
Wait, huh, what?

Ms Khan is secretly working for the People’s Action Party?

Sure, and I am leaving The New Paper to replace Daniel Craig as the next James Bond in Licence To Act Blur.

And I thought the anti-vaxx Covid-19 conspiracy theories were cray.

Yes, Ms Khan’s father Farid Khan, who is a maritime industry bigwig, did apply to run for President against Madam Halimah Yaacob in 2017 – but was rejected because he didn’t qualify.

That was planned by the PAP? I don’t get it.

I hope my friend doesn’t get Pofma-ed.

But I soon learnt he wasn’t the only one with Raeesah Khan-spiracy theories.

Elsewhere on Facebook, I found wild allegations like this:
“It is either she is a PAP mole or she has serious mental disorder. Who in the right frame of mind will make this kind of lie in the first place?”
And this:
“Raeesah Khan is a spy sent by PAP. Use bird brain to think also know. Her father is a successful millionaire businessman. Why would she want to join WP? She should be joining PAP.”
However, another person tried to debunk this mole/spy theory by pointing out:
“Her behaviour is quite consistent with her youth as an activist which landed her a role within WP for GE2020. Wokeism’s approach is not something which PAP likes.

“If PAP wants to fix WP, the AHTC case is good enough cos it even touches Low Thia Kiang…”

“If she is a mole, what makes Pritam Singh? Co-conspirator?”
But then this disbunking was debunked by someone else point by point:
“She only joined WP in 2018. Not a very long time. Spies don’t work immediately. Spies need to take some time to gain the trust etc.

“The AHTC case did not cause WP to lose Aljunied GRC and even let WP take down Sengkang. So PAP needs to come out with new saga.

“Pritam Singh is the boss who gets conned by the mole.”
Wow. If Ms Khan can do all that, she should be the new 007. I can be the next Austin Powers.

Ironically, while these Khan-spiracy theories are meant to portray WP as victim of some underhanded political subterfuge, if they actually turned out to be true, I would be more impressed by PAP for pulling off a long con this elaborate.

I mean, recruiting a woke activist to infiltrate an opposition party and help the party win a GRC in a general election despite her getting a stern warning by the police for social media posts that promoted enmity among different groups and committed contempt by scandalising the court, just so she can get into Parliament and lie about accompanying a rape victim to the police station only to confess to the lie months later – that’s next level, man.

Even Dr Evil would be jealous he never thought of it. Game recognises game.

Oh, behave.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 December 2021

Thursday 2 December 2021

Man who duped women into sex won a couples contest organised by Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports 12 years ago

You may have read about De Beers Wong, who pretended to be an agent for rich "sugar daddies" and duped at least 11 women into having sex with him.

In April, he was sentenced to 3½ years' jail and fined $20,000. He appealed.

Yesterday, because of his appeal, his jail term more than doubled from 3½ years to eight years and five months.

Weirdly, long before his unsavoury crime, he has appeared in the newspapers for more wholesomely romantic (and now rather ironic) reasons.

This was published in The Straits Times on 13 May 2009:

By his own admission, Mr De Beers Wong, 28, is short, tubby and all business – even aloof – while at work.

For the past nine months, he has been romancing Miss Megan Kong, 25.

She is willowy next to him, and also the “angel” liked by everyone in the same office for her warmth and friendliness.

The couple admit they are like chalk and cheese.

As Miss Kong said: “Our colleagues were very shocked when we first got together as we are so different, but we can really communicate.”

The insurance agents are “beautifully imperfect” – exactly the type of couple the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is looking for in an online contest.

It is no ordinary contest, though. Behind it is the serious business of persuading Singaporeans to get married and have children.

So what does being “beautifully imperfect” have to do with anything?

Everything, said Mr Richard Tan, MCYS’ director of communications and international relations. He cited a 2007 study’s finding that most young Singaporeans did want to get married, but were not doing so, they said, because they had yet to meet their Mr or Miss Right.

But what, exactly, is “right”?

Enter “beautifully imperfect”: The drive aims to inspire marriage-minded singles to find that special person based on character and personality, instead of applying society’s checklist of beauty, wealth, education and family background.

“The person who is not perfect as defined by the world around us may turn out to be the perfect husband or wife,” he said.

To reach out to young, “wired” adults, MCYS tapped the popular social networking site Facebook – the first time it has done so to run a contest – and started a “beautifully imperfect” group last month.

Reach them it did. In just over a month, more than 14,000 people joined the group, and more than 370 couples signed up for the contest.

The hunt for “beautifully imperfect” couples – all 10 winning pairs will be unveiled on Saturday – is part of a drive which has included a commercial about a family that was anything but perfect, but bonded in love all the same.

The commercial, which just ended its run on TV, showed an Indian wife eulogising her dead Chinese husband at his funeral and talking in endearing terms about his snoring and breaking wind in bed.

To get Singaporeans to think of marriage and children, the Government has pumped in big money in recent years, handing out Baby Bonuses and promoting work-life balance, among other moves.

But challenges could still thwart the Government’s mission. The baby shortage aside, divorces are still going up by the year, with 2007 logging a record 7,226 divorces and annulments.

Ask Mr Wong, and he can give you an earful about imperfect relationships – of the ugly kind. He has been through an annulled marriage – his then wife refused to have children – and had almost given up on relationships.

For Miss Kong, the relationship was nearly a non-starter. She had to handle office gossip about her dating the boss’ son, but her heart was won over by his “sweetness and maturity”.

Mr Wong, drawn to her selflessness, said: “Recently, I wanted to buy her a $600 ring that she really liked, but she said ‘no’ as she could afford to buy it herself. My ex-girlfriends would have said, ‘Please buy it for me now, thank you’.”

Miss Kong no doubt thinks her boyfriend’s dad did right to name him after the famous diamond company.

She said: “De Beers is the biggest diamond in my life.”

A diamond in the rough, perhaps, but beautifully imperfect in her eyes.

The couple was featured again in The New Paper on 17 January 2010:

She’s slim, he’s a bit – shall we say chubby? Some of their friends call them “Beauty and the Beast”.

But Mr De Beers Wong, 28, and Ms Megan Kong, 25, feel they are perfect for each other.

And it seems that netizens agree.

Mr Wong and Ms Kong are one of the 10 dating couples voted as “Beautifully Imperfect” in a Facebook contest organised by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports last year.

Indeed, they are the first of the 10 to get engaged.

The contest was open to all couples, who had to post their pictures on the Facebook page. Some 370 couples took part. The 10 most liked couples won $400 each. Mr Wong and Ms Kong were one of these couples.

Mr Wong and Ms Kong have been colleagues in an insurance company since 2003 and have been going out for 1½ years. Mr Wong proposed to Ms Kong on 18 Nov last year.

It was an unusual proposal.

That day, Ms Kong was supposed to meet a friend at Ion Orchard. Mr Wong got 30 strangers to each give her a rose.

Meanwhile, two of his friends recorded everything with cameras.

When she later turned her back to the cameramen, Mr Wong surprised her by approaching with a 20-rose bouquet and popping the question.

She said yes. They will be getting married this year, on 29 Dec.

Ms Kong said Mr Wong was “beautifully imperfect” because of his idiosyncrasies which she found strange at first.

For instance, he hardly spoke while he was eating, regardless of whether he was in a group or just with her.

This made conversation difficult at first.Mr Wong said he did not like to talk during meals as he wanted to enjoy his food.

Ms Kong said: “It was quite strange at first. But then I got used to it. So when we’re eating, I just do all the talking and hope he listens!”

So when does he do the talking? Mr Wong exclaimed: “When she drives!”

Ms Kong is always the one behind the wheel as Mr Wong does not have a driving licence.

It is through laughing with each other, even through the bad times, that they got closer.

So what do they like about each other?

Ms Kong said: “There are definitely times when people upset you, and it’s good to know you always have a safe space to come back to.”

As for Mr Wong, he is “lucky to have found someone I love unconditionally and who loves me back the same way”.

Ms Kong said: “Our relationship is based on trust and devotion. I know there’s a tendency to just try to look for the richest or most good-looking person, but we’re not like that. We accept one another for who we are.”

Then she added: “But I think he’s very adorable. Even my grandmother thinks so.”

Mr Wong wrote in his caption for their photograph in the contest: “The most beautiful thing that has ever happened in my life is to have you (Ms Kong) in my arms and knowing that you love me as much as I love you...

“Inside, I built a wall so high I thought it (would) never fall, one touch (and) you brought it down.”
There is a lot to unpack there.

Monday 22 November 2021

Why an otter in TraceTogether app? It should be a merlion and I have one in mind

Do merlions cry?

As in can tears come out of their eyes?

Or are they only capable of expelling copious fluid from their mouth like they are vomiting?

I am asking because somewhere out there, there must be a very sad merlion right now.

His name is Merli.

“Who?” you may ask

Merli is the “heart-warming and whimsical” cartoon character based on Singapore’s mythical national icon – no, not Phua Chu Kang – the Merlion, created by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 2018 to appeal to families with kids.

According to STB, Merli the merlion “is energetic and outgoing, and has many friends from Singapore and around the world”.

He also “makes it a point to treat his friends to his favourite food – kaya toast – which he loves for its unique taste”.

So cute, right?

Merli eats kaya toast like a typical Singaporean – and human being. He thinks he is people.

Merli has appeared in various marketing collateral, including animated videos produced by STB, but you don’t really hear much about him.

Fast forward to today.

GovTech has updated its TraceTogether app to show your Covid-19 vaccination and test statuses on your check-in pass after you scan the QR code.

For those who are vaccinated, the screen will have a green background for venue staff to see easily from a distance so that queues can be cleared quickly.

The screen will also have animation for venue staff to easily check that it is not a screenshot in case people want to cheat.

So for the animation, GovTech decided to have a cute cartoon critter swimming back and forth across the screen.

Merli is perfect for this.

I mean, he is a cute cartoon critter and he is half fish. So swimming back and forth is not a problem for Merli.

Obvious choice, right?

But what did GovTech choose to put in the animation?

Not Merli. Or even Phua Chu Kang.

GovTech picked a damn otter.

Because according to GovTech, “what’s not to like about a cute floating otter”.

Well, there is a lot not to like if you have precious koi that were eaten by a otter. You wouldn’t have that problem with kaya toast-loving Merli.

Hey, at least GovTech didn’t make it a baby panda.

So instead of using a pre-existing animated critter that officially represents our country and can swim, GovTech wastefully creates a brand new animated critter based on… what? Popularity?

No wonder The Washington Post recently claimed: “Otters are taking over Singapore.”

Last month, the US newspaper reported: “Using drainpipes as highways, the carnivorous mammals traverse the city, sometimes popping up in rush-hour traffic, or racing through university campuses…

“They visit hospital lobbies and condominium pools, hunting for koi fish and drinking from fountains.”

They have been featured in BBC and Netflix documentaries.

They have gone viral by crashing a marriage proposal and writhing around a tree like they were possessed.

They were once voted by Straits Times readers to represent Singapore for National Day.

Just last week, when an otter pup died after suffering injuries from a fight with other otters, it was front page news in this very paper you are reading.

The animal couldn’t get more publicity if it were marrying Rebecca Lim.

After Jack Neo finishes the Ah Girls Go Army movie, the logical sequel would be Otters Go Army (that is, if he can find a trangender otter to be in the cast).

Which brings me to my point.

The otters have so much already. Couldn’t GovTech have at least given the TraceTogether animated screen to poor Merli who has so little?

I mean, he is right there!

STB must have paid someone a lot of money to create Merli.

What a missed opportunity. With the drop in tourism due to the pandemic, he could use the work.

Maybe he can get a gig promoting Shopee like PCK did.

The sad, under-utilised merlion is probably somewhere out there drowning his sorrows in kaya toast right now.

Damn otters.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 November 2021

Monday 8 November 2021

Is Bollywood scene in Eternals movie racist? Happy Deepavali!

What is racist?

That may be obvious to many but not to all.

How else do you explain the viral 14-second video posted by a gym of two middle-aged Chinese women doing a seated row with elastic bands while shaking their heads like broken bobblehead dolls and repeating “happy Deepavali” to laughter from an unseen audience?

Never mind the Eternals movie. The video should’ve been rated M18 for immature content.

But someone must have thought it was okay and not racist at all because it was posted on Instagram by F45 Serangoon Garden South to mark the Hindu festival last week.

After receiving “feedback that this video is racially insensitive”, the gym apologised: “We are very sorry for the mistakes and hope to seek your forgiveness.”

With the Internet being the Internet, at least one of the women has been supposedly identified and the company she works for has also been targeted by those demanding that the woman be sacked.

It’s like Amy Cheong all over again. Remember her?

The company responded that it was aware of the video, adding: “We are treating this matter very seriously and we are currently in the process of investigating the incident.”

But the video was not the only racially-charged Deepavali-related incident that went viral last week.

So did this tweet by a Twitter user named sham: “my siblings my niece and i were just playing with sparklers for Deepavali and someone from on top threw an egg at us.”

He also tweeted pictures of a family including a young girl playing with sparklers outdoors and pictures of a smashed egg at what looked like the foot of a Housing Board block.

The Twitter user did not outright call it a racist incident, but some took it as such.

As one person commented: “I’m sorry that some racist person had to show his/her downright ugliness when y’all were enjoying the sparklers.”

But I would like to report a possibly racist Deepavali-related incident that not enough people are talking about.

It’s in the Eternals movie, which opened in Singapore on Deepavali.

I know the movie received the M18 rating and is banned in a several Middle Eastern countries because of a scene with two gay men kissing. But what raises my hackles is a different scene.

Come on, Marvel, you have the first South Asian superhero Kingo played by Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani and what do you do?

You put him in a Bollywood dance number.

Stereotype much?

I guess I should be grateful that you didn’t make Gilgamesh played by Korean-American actor Don Lee sing K-pop and play Squid Game.

Or make Ajak played by Mexican-American actress Selma Hayek eat tacos and clean houses.

Or make Sersi played by Chinese-British actress Gemma Chan know gongfu and ride a giant flying Chinese dragon in the end – no, wait, that is another movie.

It is particularly jarring considering the movie is a woke wet dream with a hyper-diverse cast that also includes a deaf actress, two British guys who played brothers in Game Of Thrones and Angelina Jolie.

Plus the movie is directed by what Americans like to call a “woman of colour”, Oscar winner Chloe Zhao.

As Eternals has become the worst reviewed Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever, some fans are calling its critics racist and misogynist.

So it almost does not matter that Kingo was originally Japanese in the comics. No one is accusing Marvel of brown-washing for making the character a South Asian just to have a Bollywood sequence.

All is forgiven, Tilda Swinton?

Yay, representation.

The movie may not be as outright racist as the F45 video, but both trade on the same old racial stereotypes.

Shaking my head.

But not like that.

- Publihsed in The New Paper, 8 November 2021

Monday 25 October 2021

ITE College West canteen needs support, so I ordered the cheese balls (among other things)

The Internet is not all bad.

Yes, even Facebook. (Or whatever it’s changing its name to)

Two weeks ago, someone named Wendy Choo posted an appeal in Facebook group Hawkers United - Dabao 2020.

It read:
“For ppl who are staying/ working near to CCK ITE West College ...

“U can visit the canteen located in the school.

“Business had been badly affected as students are mainly having HBL (home-based learning).

“They served a variety of food. Stall owners are barely making to cover the rental...

“Do help to support them if you are around that area.”
The post went viral, having been shared over 4,000 times and was reported by AsiaOne,, and

I first saw the post in the Friends Of Yew Tee Facebook group.

I am in the Friends of Yew Tee Facebook group because, well, I live in Yew Tee, which is near enough to the ITE College West campus that I feel I should try to help out by grabbing a meal there even though it is a bit out of the way.

If you don’t drive, you can get there by taking the train to Teck Whye LRT station. That is two MRT and three LRT stations away from my place.

I decided to make the trip last Friday afternoon with my wife.

At the ITE campus SafeEntry check-in point, I asked the security guard where the canteen was. He told me to turn right and there it was.

At the canteen entrance, there was a big sign that said: “Food court open to public.”

The problem is that the location of the sign is such that not many members of the public can actually see it.

The food court was brightly lit and spacious with tables arranged far apart due to Covid-19 safety measures.

There weren’t many people eating there, but then it was almost 2pm, a little after lunchtime. I saw a few students in uniform and diners who didn’t look like students.

Of the 18 food stalls, only 10 were open. The vegetarian food stall seemed open, but the guy behind it gave me the international hand gesture for “no more food”.

I was intrigued by a stall called Australian Delights, but it looked like it had closed down for good. Did it sell BBQ kangaroo fillet or something?

So I ordered a $2 roti john from the Malay Cuisine stall, but when I found out it contained sardines, my wife didn’t allow me to eat it because of my gout. She ate it instead.

In the end, I had the spaghetti alfredo with grilled fish (not sardine) from the pasta stall. It was only $4, but I added two fried cheese balls for another $1.50 because, you know, I wanted to support the place.

I regretted the balls. It was all a bit too rich for my blood. I was feeling kind of bloated afterwards.

Including a $1.20 iced Milo and a $1 iced tea-O (no straws) for my wife and me, I spent less than $10 on lunch for both of us.

I felt like a hero, having done my good deed for the day.

Then I went home and found out that some local YouTuber named Zermatt Neo had posted a video about spending over $50 buying items from every stall in the ITE College West food court, including the roti john, pasta, fried rice, chicken rice, hot plate, fishball noodles and waffles.

The waffle stall was closed when I was there, damn it.

But he didn’t get the cheese balls.

Anyway, this is not a competition. It is not about who spends more money in the food court and is therefore the bigger hero. Am I right?

It is about supporting the stall owners.

The woman who sold me the roti john told me that thanks to the viral post, more people were eating at the food court.

She said that previously, members of the public were “scared” to go there because they didn’t know the food court was open to the public.

Well, I certainly wouldn’t have gone there if not for the viral post. And that over-eating yet inexplicably not overweight YouTuber too.

So the Internet is not just for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and alleged sex videos of Night Owl Cinematics co-founder Sylvia Chan.

It can do some good too.

Unlike those cheese balls.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 October 2021

Monday 11 October 2021

Instead of Helen & Ivan's coins, I propose more relatable PSLE questions for the new normal

Helen and Ivan have a lot to answer for.

Because of them, children cried, parents complained and everyone memed.

This year’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) mathematics paper was reportedly so brutal that you almost expect to win 45.6 billion Korean won (S$52 million) in cash for surviving it.

But instead of the deadly games in Squid Game, 12-year-olds taking the exam apparently had to overcome such merciless questions like this one:

No, it wasn’t the terrible English of “more heavier” that reduced the kids to tears.

Did the Ministry of Education (MOE) hire Phua Chu Kang to set the exam after he finished shooting Covid-19 videos and Shopee ads?

The question went so viral that all sorts of organisations jumped on the trendwagon by creating memes about what Helen and Ivan did or should do with all those coins:

Even MOE weighed in (so to speak), posting on social media:
“We met up with Helen and Ivan this week to solve their weighty money issue. Some found it challenging while others found it familiar from work they had done in class before.

“Like every year, the examination paper has a balanced spread of test items of varying difficulties ranging from easy, moderate to challenging questions. We would like to assure parents that this year’s paper was set to comparable standards (to) past years’ papers...

“Some parents also mentioned that the Helen and Ivan question included the phrase ‘more heavier’, which is grammatically incorrect. We would like to clarify that the question in the PSLE paper did not use this phrase.”

So MOE didn’t hire PCK after all. He must be too busy telling people to get your shot.

Still, the ministry can’t deny that Helen and Ivan walking around with all that loose change isn’t exactly the most relatable of scenarios.

So here are a few proposed questions for next year’s PSLE to reflect the new normal:
  • Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported a total of 3,562 new Covid-19 cases in the community and migrant worker dormitories. If the number also came in second in the 4D draw that day, how much do you bet on the number of new local cases the next day?

  • On Saturday, Singapore announced that those who are fully vaccinated can travel to eight more countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the US. How soon after did the Singapore Airlines website crash?

  • Of Singapore’s population, 83 per cent have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines and 85 per cent have received at least one dose. How many who refuse to be vaccinated will eventually take ivermectin because their “church friends” in Telegram chat groups tell them to?

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks for 25 minutes on the Covid-19 situation using 3,063 words. How many times does he drink from his magic cup?

  • Helen and Ivan are dating. She is vaccinated. He is not and doesn’t want to be. From Wednesday, only those who are vaccinated will be allowed to enter malls and dine in (with a one-week grace period for malls). How long before Helen finds a new boyfriend? Oh, Ivan is also a cheapskate who always seems to have only coins with him.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 October 2021

Dear Mr. Ong

I refer to your cheek-in-tongue article in today's TNP. It is as humorous as ever.

On a more serious note, I wonder why some parents are so upset about the difficult Maths question. Firstly, it is just one question out of so many questions. Secondly, isn't, by having a few difficult questions, a means to differentiate those students who are strong academically from the rest? Thirdly, why are students so weak emotionally nowadays that they will cry over things like this? Is it the end of the world? Fourthly, shouldn't we, including those parents who voiced their displeasure and concern for their children, be helping the children to take challenges in their stride instead of over-protecting them?

Obviously there will be different views about it. I guess this is one way to make further improvement in the education system (or for that matter, any topic or subject).

BTW, as I mentioned to SEAB in the email below, even though they were not the ones who made the grammatical error, it is still their responsibility to ensure that the parents and children will learn to use proper English now. Otherwise, we will definitely have bigger problems in the future.

Another observation. There is a tendency for most, if not all of us, to make more assumptions nowadays. Just like in this case about the grammatically wrong question. Almost everyone, including me, assumed that it was SEAB who made the mistake. In many cases, no one bothers to seek clarification before jumping to a conclusion. Making assumptions is a double-edged sword. It can help in improving efficiency and help to separate those who have better means of reading the intent of an instruction, programme from those who need to be told of every minute detail (which will help in identifying managers and leaders). On the other hand, it can also lead to wrong implementation of programmes and processes which lead to big issues subsequently. Won't it be great if someone has a solution to this?


Monday 27 September 2021

What do PSLE parents fear most – Covid, clowns or going to a ‘lousy school’?

It’s that time of the year again.

I feel sorry for Primary 6 kids and their parents. How stressful it must be for them right now. The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) starts this week. More children are getting infected with Covid-19 and so far, none of the Covid-19 vaccines available in Singapore have been approved for use in children under 12.

But despite all that, you know what parents could be more afraid of more than the coronavirus?


And Singapore tested positive for them last week.

The bad news is there is no vaccine against them either – for children and adults. Pfizer and Big Pharma are sleeping on the job.

But then who could’ve predicted we would have an outbreak of a Stephen King movie? And I'm not talking about The Stand.

Last Monday, Singaporeans woke up to the bizarre reports of clowns terrorising children outside their schools.

It turned out to be maybe just one clown sent by an education company called Speech Academy Asia to promote its classes.

No, it isn’t bliss and no, we don’t approve. And yes, it is kind of queer.

Sondheim aside, not everyone is down to clown around town.

What the company probably hoped to be more like Ronald McDonald turned out to be more like It, prompting multiple police reports and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin to post on Facebook last Monday: “Whoever is doing what I assume to be some viral marketing nonsense, stop it!”

Or at least wait a month until Halloween if you want to frighten children with your budget Pennywise cosplay.

The story was even picked up by overseas media outlets such as The Washington Post, South China Morning Post and Vice.

The Sun had this headline: “Parents terrified after creepy ‘killer clowns’ spotted lurking outside school and asking kids to ‘follow them’.”

Fact check: Unlike the coronavirus, the supposed “killer clowns” didn’t actually kill anybody, although safe distancing from clowns is still advised, preferably a lot more than 1 metre.

Speech Academy Asia has since apologised, posting on Facebook:
“We would like to clarify that; although indeed, the promoter is an employee of Speech Academy Asia, our team does not offer any form of monetary rewards for children to follow them.

“Additionally, our promoters strictly do not take any children out of the vicinity.

“We truly understand your concern for the safety of your children; hence we will be putting an immediate stop to our roadshows.”
And thus, the clownoravirus cluster was quickly closed to the relief of all.

Taking the PSLE in the middle of a pandemic is harrowing enough without having to fend off circus acts too.

Well, at least you no longer have to worry about your child not making it to Raffles Institution (RI).

I remember my parents really wanted me to go to RI. But after my PSLE, I was posted to Bukit Merah Secondary School.

For a long time, I felt like such a failure for disappointing my parents.

But I don’t anymore, thanks to Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Or at least I think it’s him.

About two weeks ago, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook:
“I called Mr Leong Mun Wai today to apologise for my private comments to a colleague in Parliament yesterday.

“I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said. Mr Leong has accepted my apology.”

However, the minister did not specify exactly what comments he was apologising for.

The Straits Times reported that during a Parliamentary debate on Sept 14, after Mr Leong spoke, a voice could be heard saying “he’s illiterate”.

Later, a microphone picked up someone saying: “Seriously, how did he get into RI?... Must have been a lousy school.”

Mr Leong, who is a Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party, was an RI student. ST said that it is understood that these remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was from Anglo-Chinese School.

However, there has also been some conjecture online that not all the offending remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was sitting next to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament.

Last Wednesday, in Mr Wong’s Facebook Live post about jobs, someone daringly went off-topic to write in the comments section: “Actually I think people are more interested to know whether you were the one who made the ‘lousy school’ comment in Parliament.”

And Mr Wong actually replied: “Thanks for the question. I assure you that I did not make any of those comments.”

And there you have it.

I believe the minister, who was from Tanjong Katong Secondary School.

So yes, it is thanks to Dr Balakrishnan that I no longer have to feel like a loser for not going to RI. I can feel like a loser for other reasons.

And parents don’t have to pressure their PSLE-taking kids to go to RI anymore.

Tanjong Katong will do. You can even become Finance Minister.

Or Bukit Merah and become a famous alleged humour columnist like me.

Just don’t call me a clown.

As for the pandemic, is it ever going to end?

Well, maybe next year.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 September 2021

Monday 13 September 2021

Soh Rui Yong's 2.4km challenge and the Commandos: ‘Never a me vs them scenario’

Well, that escalated quickly.

Maybe even quicker than marathoner Soh Rui Yong running 2.4km in 6 minutes 53.18 seconds.

On Sept 4, the two-time SEA Games gold medallist officially became the first Singaporean to complete the distance in less than 7 minutes.

Is that fast? You may ask.

For reference, in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), if you are younger than 22 years old, you need to run 2.4km in only 8 and a half minutes to get the maximum points. Any faster, you’re just showing off.

Soh wasn’t taking his IPPT, but he isn’t averse to showing off either.

Someone must have said something because last Wednesday, Soh posted his lap splits on social media with the comment:
“Somehow, some people still think their ‘army/commando bmt mate who smokes’ ran faster.”

That comment didn’t go over well with everyone.

So the next day, he posted:
“It has come to my attention that a number of former Singapore Army Commandos are taking offence to the last line of my previous post, and are doubling down on their claims, insisting that a sub 7 minute 2.4km is a common occurrence within the Commandos.”
He continued:
“Firstly, that line, read in context and in entirety, was not targeted at Commandos specifically.

“The point is this. Army 2.4km myths always go something like, ‘last time my friend from BMT/Army/Commandos/NDU/Guards can run (insert magical number here) for 2.4km. Some more ah, he is a smoker.’

“I’m just making reference to those kind of statements.”
Meaning he wasn’t dissing Commandos – he was just calling out the unsubstantiated claims.

To make his point, Soh issued this challenge:
“Any Singaporean who runs sub-7:00 for 2.4km at next month’s Pocari Sweat Singapore 2.4km Run (Ground Race, 9-10 Oct) will receive $700 and 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat, both paid for by me.”

Many responded with the same army joke about their encik’s grandmother.

Soh did not specify whether the bottles of Pocari Sweat would be 500ml or 2 litres, but what the hell is anyone supposed to do with 700 bottles of “ion supply” drink anyway, whatever the size is?

Why Pocari Sweat? Because 30-year-old Soh is its brand ambassador.

But other companies have also jumped on the bandwagon for a free ride, such as Circles.Life, Fitness Best Asia and Smoobar.

The prize pot has grown to include a Suunto watch, two 90-minute deep tissue sports massages, 700 packets of chicken rice and a year’s supply of toilet paper, which would come in handy after eating 700 packets of chicken rice.

Then out of nowhere, Olympic swimmer Joseph Schooling crashed the party by randomly issuing his own challenge on Instagram: “I’ll give anyone a 10-second head start for a 200. Winner gets to pick a @boss suit paid for by me.”

Wait. What? Where? When? Why?

Is anyone claiming that they know naval divers who can swim 200m faster than Schooling?

At least Soh’s challenge has a venue, a date and a purpose.

Schooling’s challenge is like something he just made up on the spot to give his sponsor, Hugo Boss, a shout-out.

But while all this may seem like fun and games, things took a dark turn early yesterday morning when Soh posted on Facebook:
“Over the past week, I’ve seen hate comments from some members of the Commando fraternity on Facebook and leaked messages from Commando whatsapp chat groups strategising how to get back at me for announcing the 2.4km Challenge. (Apparently, because it makes them look bad, or so I've read.)

“Sabotage tactics I’ve seen being discussed range from writing in to my sponsors and calling for them to drop me, to finding ways to smear my character in public.

“The Commando motto is ‘For Honour And Glory’. I think most Commandos live up to this. I hope these black sheep can strive to do the same. There is nothing honorable or glorious about turning down a fair challenge and resorting to sabotage schemes. While trying to smear me, what you’re really doing is smearing the reputable name of the Commandos - your own band of brothers.

“I believe that a bit of this may have come from keyboard warriors having fun stirring the pot to pit me vs the Commandos and enjoying the show.”
In hopes of de-escalating the situation, he added:
“To clear up any misunderstandings, I reiterate that I respect what the Commandos have gone through, and there is so much more to being a Commando than just running.

“I can’t do what they do because I don’t train like them, similar to how they can’t do what I do without training like a distance runner. There was never a me vs them scenario.”

Clearly, this is spiralling out to be more than Soh bargained for when he started the challenge. The runner has a knack for running off at the mouth.

After run-ins with Singapore Athletics and fellow marathoner Ashley Liew, now the Commandos?

Who knew the perennial winners of the SAF Best Combat Unit could be so thin-skinned?

Perhaps Soh could offer the 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat as a peace offering – the big 2-litre ones.

And throw in 700 deep-tissue sports massages as well.

We all want a happy ending, don’t we?

The big twist could be his rival Liew shows up at the 2.4km challenge and beats Soh (again).

- Published in The New Paper, 13 September 2021

Monday 30 August 2021

Oh, ‘Kamala’ spelt backwards is ‘alamak’? Shut up your face

Alamak, nasi lemak.

Do you know that “nasi lemak” spelt backwards is “Kamel Isan”, which happens to be the name of my Facebook friend in Indonesia?

Sure, she is no Vice-President of the United States of America, but still, what a coincidence!

When US V-P Kamala Harris visited Singapore last week, I saw a bunch of posts online pointing out with some glee that “Kamala” spelt backwards is “alamak”.

Even though the meme spread faster than the Delta variant, I shall resist referring to it as the Kamala virus. There is no vaccine for it – Michelle Pfeiffer-BioNTech, Madonna or otherwise.

Apparently, many were so tickled by the alamak-Kamala joke (if you can call it that) that they couldn’t help infecting others with it.

One of them was a friend of Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng.

Mr Seah then became a super spreader himself by sharing the joke on Facebook last Monday:
“As we know, VP of USA, Ms Kamala Harris chose Singapore for her first stop of her Asia tour. And with it, a friend pointed out to me that Kamala’s name spelt backwards is Alamak… what a coincidence! #singapore #usa #alamak #coincidence #humour”
Thank goodness for that last hashtag. How else would you know the post was meant to be humorous? I’m speaking from experience.

But you can’t find the post any more.

Mr Seah told "Yes, I did post this on my FB page last evening just before I went for my MPS (Meet-the-People Session).

“Midway through my MPS, a friend ping me and as I reflected on it, I agree it was not appropriate and decided to take down the posting.”

Unfortunately, the Internet doesn’t forget.

Although Mr Seah, who is also CEO of NTUC FairPrice, deleted the post, someone has already taken a screenshot, which went viral with people calling the joke racist and misogynist.

I’m more offended by the repetitiveness of seeing versions of the same joke over and over again.

Before Mr Seah, others have also shared the joke, including SGAG and Goody Feed, and it remains on their Facebook pages. They have yet to be shamed into removing it.

In fact, the joke has been going around long before Ms Harris landed on our sometimes rainy shores.

I first started encountering it last November after Mr Joe Biden won the US presidential election with Ms Harris as his running mate (alleged voter fraud and deadly insurrection notwithstanding).

Even shared the joke, together with this knee-slapper: “China is already welcoming Biden. China is prepared. They have even named a famous landmark in central Beijing for Biden since the Ming dynasty in the 14th century.”

The punchline: “FOR BIDEN CITY!”

Get it?

And it is still there on Facebook.

(By the way, the Forbidden City was actually built in the 15th century, but what’s a century or two between friends?)

So if the alamak-Kamala joke has been around for at least nine months, why are people seemingly taking offence only now?

As author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh wrote online: “I’ve seen this Alamak-Kamala ‘joke’ on private forums and comedy boards, but for a politician to do so publicly… hmmm.”

In other words, Mr Seah is an elected official, not SGAG. Or me.

The one good thing to come out of the backlash the MP received is that hopefully, it has made everyone realise how inappropriate the joke is – which he acknowledged – and this is the vaccine that will prevent folks from spreading this over-repeated so-called “joke” ever again.

Don’t be anti-vax.

My friend Kamel and I thank you.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 August 2021

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Oh, brother! I once pitched to Mediacorp Channel 5 an idea for sitcom about a Malay family and was told to add a Chinese character

Oh no, she didn’t!

But she did. I think someone just called Mediacorp racist.

Or did she?

That someone is broadcast journalist Sharanjit Leyl.

In a BBC radio programme that aired two days before National Day, she said: “My pride in multicultural Singapore comes with the acknowledgement that had I been born Chinese, my life would have been a lot easier.”

She talked about how even though she had a master’s degree and broadcast journalism experience in Canada, “I struggled to get my foot in the door at the local news broadcaster”.

The “local news broadcaster” she was referring to is, of course, Mediacorp.

So she got a job at Bloomberg, where one of her duties was to provide currency updates to Mediacorp.

“They told my bosses they didn’t want me doing TV updates for them,” said Ms Sharanjit.

“I know the man who ran the newsroom of that same TV channel, who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean.

“And I confronted him about why there were still so few Indian and Malay anchors presenting their programmes.

“His response was that viewers did not like watching darker-skinned presenters.”

So she was not actually accusing Mediacorp of being racist. She was accusing Mediacorp of accusing its viewers of being racist.

Mediacorp has since released a statement that Ms Sharanjit appears to be referring to its editor-in-chief Walter Fernandez, who did not say what she said he said.

He said: “To my recollection, I did not reference race or skin colour at all in our conversation.”

The company also said that it is “committed to equal opportunities and diversity in our workforce” and its “hiring policies and practices are based on merit”.

I was once (actually thrice) a Mediacorp employee and this reminds me of my own experience there.

I used to work on Channel 5 shows like Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, Under One Roof, Living With Lydia and Shiver.

We regularly had pitch meetings where we proposed new show ideas for the channel.

One day, I decided to pitch a sitcom about a Malay family. It had never been done on Channel 5 before. The closest we got was Police & Thief, starring Mark Lee and Suhaimi Yusof, which was about a Malay family – and also a Chinese family.

It seems that on Channel 5, while Chinese characters can be the leads, if there are minority characters, they are part of the ensemble or co-leads at best.

The rationale, of course, is that since Singapore is majority Chinese, this should be reflected in the casting of the show to get the most viewers.

But when I analysed the viewership of the most popular Channel 5 programmes, what I noticed was that Malays comprised a sizable chunk disproportionate to their population.

I figured that if I could grow this demographic, I could get boffo ratings for my show. Most Chinese viewers are watching Channel 8 anyway.

So my motivation was more commercial than woke.

I also thought that a Channel 5 series with an all-Malay cast would be a first and make a great marketing hook.

When I pitched my concept, the feedback I got from the executives running Channel 5 (all Chinese) was they liked the idea – but could I include a Chinese character as well?

What? That would defeat the whole purpose of the show!

No, I wasn’t going to change anything, I snapped.

My reaction was so antagonistic that the executives just didn’t want to deal with me any more and moved on to another pitch.

I immediately regretted my outburst. I guess I could have added a Chinese character. Or pretended that I would.

But in hindsight, perhaps it was for the best. A blessing in disguise. I am probably not the most qualified person to create a sitcom about a Malay family.

My idea was a show called Brudder! which would centre around two brothers. A lot of the dialogue would just be them going “Brudder!”

That would not have aged well. I definitely dodged a bullet there. I should thank those Channel 5 execs for saving me from myself by rejecting my pitch, even though it was due less to its lack of merit and more to my obnoxiousness.

But I did do a pilot about an Indian family starring Gurmit Singh for Channel 5 that didn’t go to series and was never aired.

Yes, it did have Chinese characters.

Well, at least nobody told me that Channel 5 viewers did not like watching darker-skinned characters.

- Unpublished

Monday 16 August 2021

Strong arm of the law minister: Shanmugam does some heavy lifting

Last week, we were finally allowed back in the gym for no-mask high-intensity workouts with the easing of Covid-19 measures.

And probably none too soon for Singapore’s overnight gym bro sensation, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam.

While the rest of us were stuffing our faces with the Hainanese Chicken Burger on Saturday, our new Minister of Swole posted on social media an 84-second video of him in a gym, deadlifting progressively heavier weights to applause.

He wrote:
“For slightly more than a year now, I have added weight training to my exercise routine.

“After some months of training, (with Covid interruptions), I did a test to see what weight I can carry.

“Here is a video, it starts with my attempt at 80kg, and then increased weights, going up to 105kg – my body weight is 70kg, so 105 kg is 150% of my body weight. (This was when gym training, with masks off, was allowed for a period, last year.)”
Too bad he did not also tell us his height so we can calculate his body mass index.

Trying not to appear like he was just showing off his gains, the 62-year-old also threw in this health advisory:
“We have to encourage more people to exercise – walk, go to the gym, swim, do something to move.

“And add weight training, for strengthening bones, other benefits. For older persons, it helps reduce muscle loss. Good to have a varied routine.”
Way to lead by example, Mr Shanzenegger.

But he was not done. He was not going to stop at just 150 per cent of his body weight. He continued:
“In the next few months, I am going to try and lift 120kg.”
Then it was his turn to get advice from a Facebook user named Ben Ho, a former strongman competitor, who commented: “You can hit 120kg faster if you wear proper shoes for deadlifting. Normal sneakers like those, with their squishy soles and relatively high heels are the worst for these exercises.”

Yeah, those chunky dad shoes ain’t gonna cut it although they do match the People’s Action Party Men-In-White tee-and-shorts ensemble.

The post ends with a sneaky humblebrag:
“Reality check: the lady you see in the gym, in background in the video weighs less than 50kg and lifts 120kg!”
Which would seem like he was being modest by comparing himself unfavourably to the buff babe standing nearby – except that she was staring admiringly at him like he was Asian Thor.

The video has since been viewed more than 250,000 times across Facebook and Instagram. It’s no Jia Jia popping one out video, but still.

The MP for Nee Soon GRC may not be a panda, but you should see him in beast mode.

So what if we didn’t bring home any Olympic medals this time? We have an Olympian god in our Cabinet.

Or is it Norse god? He was certainly bringing the thunder in the video.

Will he make it to 120kg?

A Crispy Hainanese Chicken Burger might help.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 August 2021