Monday, 26 July 2021

From flow chart to no dine-in apocalypse: Table for one, please?

Remember just over a week ago when the Government announced that for dining in, the maximum group size would be reduced from five to two because of the resurgence of coronavirus cases in Singapore.


Groups of up to five might be allowed depending on whether you were vaccinated, from the same household, under 12 years old or could down 10 bowls of curry noodles in one sitting.

There were more permutations than variants of Covid-19 and Loki. You needed a flow chart and a stiff drink.

It was so mind-bogglingly convoluted that some restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Long John Silver’s, Toast Box and Nando’s said screw it, we would just limit it to two people.

That lasted like three days.

Oh, were the rules too complicated for you snowflakes? Now the Government has made it simpler for everyone.

Vaccinated, unvaccinated, same household, different households, children, no children, pets, don’t care. How many diners? Zero.

Any questions?

What a rollercoaster ride it has been for the F&B industry this month.

Or year. When 2021 started, the number was 8. Then in May, it went down to five.

People were grumbling that they couldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day properly.

Today, we would sell their mothers to get back those days again as a week after Mother’s Day, dining in was banned altogether.

We had to do take-outs for Father’s Day, getting the shorter end of the stick as usual.

When July started, the number was two. Then up to five. Then it was down to two again but five if you have the right combination. Now it’s back to zero.

Pardon the whiplash.

Some blame the KTV joints. Some blame the dirty old men. Some blame the Government’s oversight and/or the lack of it. I blame the Japanese for inventing karaoke.

But instead of playing the blame game where everyone loses, I believe it is time for a new idea. Or perhaps the revival of an old one?

On May 25, in the midst of the post-Mother’s Day dine-in ban, The Straits Times published a letter from reader Cheng Shoong Tat suggesting that we resume dining-in with only one diner per table:
“In response to essential and front-line workers not having enough places to consume their takeaway food at, many malls are opening up their foodcourts and public places for this purpose.

“Only one diner is allowed per table, which must be placed at least 1m from the next one.

“By the same token, why not allow food outlets to resume dine-in service on the same basis, in addition to serving takeaways?

“Outlets that are able to rearrange their seating into single-diner tables at least 1m apart should be allowed to resume limited dine-in service in order to supplement their takings from selling takeaway food.

“This way, the impact of the recent Covid-19 measures on food outlets can be somewhat cushioned, while less takeaway waste is produced.”

While some, including me, liked the idea, many were against it, like the person who wrote this letter that ST published a few days later:
“It is not wise to allow one diner per table during this current period of heightened alert, as suggested by Mr Cheng Shoong Tat (Allow dining in to resume with one diner per table, May 25).

“It is acceptable to make an exception for essential workers, including delivery riders, who do need a place to eat - usually for only a short while.

“But if one diner per table were allowed for the community at large, there may be instances where diners continue to linger unmasked after having their meal.

“Furthermore, there could be a potential loophole when two family members or friends go out together for a meal. They might chat with each other while having their meal, even if they are seated apart.”
It’s an enforcement issue then?

Anyway, the idea became moot and fell by the wayside once dining-in resumed with up to two diners per table (better than one) on June 21.

But now that we have doubled back to the post-Mother’s Day zero dining-in apocalypse since last Thursday, the single-diner idea is worth revisiting as it offers some respite.

While it has been argued that it’s the removal of your mask while you are eating that is the issue regardless of whether it’s one or more diners, the way the Government has been playing yo-yo with the number of diners demonstrates otherwise.

If nothing else, you could finally eat alone in a restaurant without people feeling sorry for you because they think you have no friends.

Best of all, no flow chart required.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 July 2021

Monday, 12 July 2021

Why is the singer not wearing a mask on the bus in the new NDP 2021 music video?

Dear Linying,

Congratulations on the positive response to your National Day Parade (NDP) 2021 theme song, The Road Ahead, you composed with producer Evan Low.

I am not going to report you for not wearing a mask on the bus in the music video as you were lip-syncing to the song even though all the other passengers were wearing a mask.

I understand that we would not be able to see you lip-syncing to the song if we could not see your lips if you were wearing a mask.

However, I am a little perturbed that you were quoted in The Straits Times report last week as saying: “I’m quite grateful because I was so prepared for the hate, but it turned out well.”

Why were you “prepared for the hate”?

What hate?

Don’t you know that our NDP songs are so universally beloved around the globe that at least one person in India has plagiarised Count On Me Singapore and claimed to have written it?

When that happened a few months ago, all Singaporeans stood up, stood up for the song as ours, proof that we have nothing but love for the NDP songs.

So I am not sure why you were expecting hate for yours.

Is it because every new NDP song since Dick Lee’s composition Home in the past 20 years or so has not been as well received such that it has practically become a national tradition to criticise every new NDP song and ask whether we really need yet another new NDP song?

One year, 2013, the NDP song, One Singapore, got so much hate that it was decided that, no, we did not need yet another new NDP song the next year.

At least it was not a song about fun packs sung to the tune of a Lady Gaga hit.

To be fair, that was not meant to be the National Day song that year, 2011. It was just a song about fun packs – meant to be sung on National Day.

Since your song does not mention fun packs or sound like Bad Romance, you are safe.

It also helps that you resisted using any Singlish in your song unlike the Ministry of Health, which lacked such self- restraint with the Phua Chu Kang Covid-19 music videos.

The chorus for The Road Ahead could have easily been “Come what may on the road ahead, just you wait and see, steady pom pi pi.”

But you said no. Why? Because you have standards. And an Ah Beng contractor in yellow boots is not singing it.

Maybe next year.

Also, great job not mentioning “Singapore” in a song about Singapore.

Otherwise, you would have to rhyme “Singapore” with “more”, “roar” or “a land to treasure right down to the core”, whatever that means. What “core”? Earth core? Apple core? Softcore?

One drawback is that without “Singapore”, you are making the song easier for people in India to copy without having to change the lyrics.

No, wait, “island” is mentioned several times in your song and India is not an island. Well played, madam. Well played.

But if videos start popping up on YouTube of Mumbai school children singing The Road Ahead with “nation” replacing “island”, that would just be reaffirmation that the song is good enough to steal.

It feels weird not mocking the new NDP song like Singaporeans usually do.

Is this the abnormal new normal?

The next time people ask me to put on a mask on the bus, I will just show them your video on my phone and start lip-syncing to it.

I will also tell them I used to be from the navy.

Steady pom pi pi.

- Published in The New Paper, 12 July 2021

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

TIL Gurmit Singh's daughter Gabbi Wenyi Ayane Virk is 'an ícon in Singapore's queer community' and more power to her

You may have read about kids of local celebrities following their parents' footsteps into showbiz.

But you probably haven't read about Gurmit Singh's daughter, Gabrielle.

She did make the news in 2014 after she went viral with her open letter to Forever 21, calling out the misogynistic rap song being played in a clothing store targeted at women. She was 17 then.

That was seven years ago.

A couple of weeks ago, I was researching my column about Gurmit's Lamborghini when I came across this 2020 Vice article about Gabbi Wenyi Ayane Virk, calling her "an icon in Singapore’s queer community".

Wait, what? Is this Gurmit's daughter? I cross-checked her very unique name. Yes, it is.

Here's an excerpt from the article:
Gabbi is a lot of things. Primarily, they're a thing maker, body-shaker, and a rule-breaker; or at least that’s what it says on their website.

Gabbi Wenyi Ayane Virk, 22, is an icon in Singapore’s queer community. The person behind the extremely popular Queer ZineFest, they're also the organiser of QUEERTHEYEAR! Cabaret, a night of unabashed self expression for queer artists.
Nowhere in the article was mentioned that she is the daughter of one of the most famous people in Singapore.

And then I discovered she was a contributor to Huffington Post from 2016 to 2017 and I was further impressed.

One of her articles was titled Growing Up Straight: A Timeline.

She also has a YouTube channel, which has 23 videos, the most recent published in February last year.

But the video that caught my attention was one published in June 2, 2018, titled "happy pride month - here's my coming out video".

It's a powerful, emotionally raw 13-minute video about her struggle with her sexuality and how she eventually came out to her parents, one of whom is, of course, Gurmit.

To start with, she identified as queer. She said in the video:
Personally, I’m not a big fan of labels. At some point, I said I was bisexual. Then I was like no, I’m pansexual.

And now I kind of just go by queer because I’m attracted to people. I don’t really care about people’s gender when I’m attracted to them.

So yes, I’m queer and it has taken me quite a while to get comfortable saying that I’m queer because I live in Singapore which is very conservative and then I grew up in a Christian household which is also very conservative.
She said that when homosexuality was talked about, it was “always in a bad light like we were sinners”.
In my mid-teens, like 15, I went through a phase where I was super super religious. I was cell reading. I was going to church. I was volunteering. I was reading the Bible every day… That was me trying to pray the gay away.

So I just laid low and pretended to be straight for a couple of years.
She sort of came out to her mother one night, but things got weird.
When I was 18, that was when I came out to my mum. I drunk-called my mother… she’s so lovely. She came and picked me up. In the car, I held it together.

And then we got home and I just started crying. ‘Oh my god, I’m a lesbian! I like girls! And I don’t know what to do and it’s so difficult.'

She kind of just sat by me and nodded and like patted my shoulder.

And the next morning, she didn’t say anything about it.

I never dreamed that my parents would be okay with my sexuality because they’re Christian and because the Christianity that I grew up with was not supportive of my sexuality at all.
But her struggles continued.
A few months down the road, I wrote an article about homosexuality. My parents read it and they were not very okay with it. But they were more not okay with the fact that I hadn’t told them. That I put it online before telling them.
She was probably referring to the Huffpost article mentioned above.
I felt really bad about my sexuality. So in order to work things out, I would start dating boys… Maybe I’m gay because I haven’t found the right straight cis man to warm my heart!

I just went out with a string of “normal” boys who turned out to be really predatory.
But when she went to university in the UK, she continued dating boys, which she described as "horrible". She also started dating girls which she preferred.

She finally came out to both her parents by sending them a video.
I knew things were still weird with my parents. I really love my family. So it really bothers me when things are off with us. And I knew things were off because of me.

So I made them a really long really dramatic video, like I cried a lot and my make-up got messed up. I made them a really long coming-out video where I said I needed to tell them things and address the elephant in the room.

I sent it to them and I basically just lie in my bed terrified that they might disown me.

They both texted me. They were really sweet. They were like “Thank you for telling us and feeling safe enough to tell us and we can tell that it’s something that’s very important to you and we’re glad that you opened up.”

So I came home for Christmas break. During that break, both my parents took me out individually. My dad was really sweet… He was like “I can’t control who you choose to love and I’m just going to support you.” And I was like yay!

I know I’m really lucky because I know a lot of friends who can’t come out to their parents because their parents would not be this nice to them. So I am very very grateful.
She said she came out to her parents a year and a half before making the YouTube video, so it was likely aound the end of 2016.

What I find poignant is that I know Gurmit went through his own struggles with his Sikh parents when he converted to Christianity, especially his father; and later, his daughter would struggle with her sexuality partly due to the Christianity she grew up with.

I hope she's in a better place now.

Also on Gabbi's YouTube channel is this amazing video of her performing her obviously NSFW poem, Things to Say While You're Sucking His Dick. It was not what I expected.

She is clearly a very passionate, funny, talented young woman with a cause.

More Singaporeans should know about Gabbi Wenyi Ayane Virk and not just because of her famous father.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Should you get the McDonald's BTS Meal even if you're not a fan of BTS?

Dear non-BTS fans,

How do you even exist?

How do you live in this world and not be a BTS fan?

I mean, I can understand if you are a non-MBS fan who does not know Marina Bay Sands is not in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.

But a non-BTS fan? That’s like the law of physics in a Fast And Furious movie – you’re non-existent. #JusticeforHan

However, for the sake of discussion, let’s say you do exist and the BTS Army hasn’t hunted you down like the dog that you are yet.

Let’s say you can’t tell Jungkook from Joo Koon MRT station.

Let’s say you think Dynamite and Butter are the same song. Break it down!

Let’s say up is down, orange is black and Robinsons is back – whatever.

Even if you don’t stan the only Korean act to ever top the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart – three times! – you must have heard that McDonald’s belatedly launched its much-hyped BTS Meal in Singapore last Monday, delayed by some deadly virus that has been going around.

At long last, Singaporeans get to experience what is basically an upsized nine-piece McNugget meal but with two “special” dipping sauces, namely Cajun and Sweet Chilli, allegedly picked by the boyband themselves and inspired by McDonald’s South Korea.

Surprisingly, no butter. A missed cross-promo opportunity? No sticks of dynamite either.

So how special are the “special” sauces?

Let me put it this way. The Cajun sauce isn’t going to transport you to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s just honey mustard.

The Sweet Chilli, on the other hand, takes me back to my childhood because that was when I used to put Sinsin chilli sauce on everything.

But if you’re ordering the BTS Meal for the food, you’re missing the point.

Remember those bad old days when we used to queue at McDonald’s for the Hello Kitty toys like how people are now queuing for durian and Sinovac? We got our priorities right back then.

The food was just the necessary evil that came with the mouthless cat.

For the BTS Meal, it’s all about the special BTS Meal packaging.

And McDonald’s knows this as it tells you upfront on its app and website: “BTS-branded brown bag is not available in Singapore.”

What you do get is a BTS-branded McNuggets box, a very large BTS-branded cup and I suppose the little tubs for the sauces.

There are hundreds of listings for these items on Carousell. I don’t know how many people are actually buying them though.

At least one person is selling a McNugget that the seller claims is shaped like BTS member Jungkook. Or an MRT station if you can’t tell the difference.

Not to be confused with the McNugget from a BTS Meal that resembled a character from the online game Among Us and was apparently sold for US$99,997 (S$134,000) on US eBay.

It seems that people would do anything rather than eat the McNugget.

One Singaporean managed to craft a pair of shoes out of the packaging from six BTS Meals. That’s quite a feet.

What amazes me is that for all this, the BTS Meal itself is priced at $8.90, just 40 cents more than the non-BTS upsized nine-piece McNugget meal.

The only caveat is that the BTS Meal is only available for delivery to avoid a repeat of the krazy Hello Kitty kueues of yore.

That means a delivery charge of $4 if you use McDelivery or you can use another food delivery service.

As it has been a week since the launch, the hype has died down a bit and ordering online should be easier now.

So even if you’re not a BTS fan, why not?

You may be able to recoup some of your cost by selling the used packaging on Carousell to someone to make footwear with.

The way I see it, you have two options.

It’s either the BTS Meal or the unholy crime-against-nature mutant abomination that is the KFC Cheesy Zinger Triple Down.

And that has even less right to exist than you do.

Break it down!

- Published in The New Paper, 28 June 2021

Monday, 14 June 2021

No, Gurmit Singh wasn't driving his Lambo when he was caught speeding at 131kmh

Well, in the Get Your Shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi video, he did say “faster go and vaccinate”.

But perhaps not 131kmh fast.

Yes, that was the speed Gurmit Singh was caught driving at on that fateful April 12 night along Woodlands Avenue 12.

Fastest in Singapore and JB, and some say Batam?

At least he was not naked (presumably), unlike another road user who was arrested by police last week for riding a motorcycle without a helmet – or any clothes.

Even worse, no mask.

The naked guy has since been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health.

As for Singh, he was fined $800 last week and banned from driving for three months. He apologised on Instagram for what he did and said: “I hope to do better.”

If he was speeding, he must have been driving his Lamborghini, right?

After all, if the man who plays Phua Chu Kang is famous for anything else besides playing Phua Chu Kang, it’s owning a Lambo.

It’s like Ann Kok and that iconic see-through top she wore at the 1996 Star Awards. People still talk about it.

Whether she likes it or not.

The Lambo is Singh’s see-through top.

It all kind of started in July 2011 when The New Paper reported: “After a local magazine published in May a picture of his Lamborghini Gallardo that he bought last December, he has been called ‘arrogant’, even by a friend.”

Singh told TNP:
“I was very saddened by that remark. It’s very easy for people to jump on the wrong idea or label me as ‘hao lian’. I don’t like to be seen as pushing it in your face like, ‘Oh, look at how successful I am.’ People see me driving the car, but they don't have to announce it to the world.”
He later explained to another publication:
“Once I got (the car), I started sharing with a few friends and by the time I shared with my sixth or seventh friend, one person said, ‘So show-off.’

“I went, ‘No, I’m just sharing happy news, I want you to be happy for me that this guy from a poor Punjabi family who slept on the floor for all his life now drives a Lamborghini.’”
He sold the car after two years. It may be gone but not forgotten.

In 2017, a CNA reporter interviewed Singh and wrote: “This is when I decide to discuss the Lamborghini, a car he owned a few years ago when Mediacorp was still at Caldecott Hill.

“My newsroom used to be close to the open-air carpark and the roar of the engine signalling his comings and goings would penetrate the walls. Publicly, he was called a show-off.

“When I raise this, I sense his struggle to hide how such talk perturbs him.”

Singh told the reporter:
“I know you guys in the compound could hear the Lamborghini. I didn’t do it on purpose. It’s just how the engine is. I wasn’t trying to show off. I wasn’t pressing the accelerator.

“To me, it’s not about materialism. I understand what’s been put into it – the effort and the blood, sweat and all that. It’s not just superficial. It’s like driving the Batmobile.

“It’s like people who buy handbags… I don’t get it. But I know they do. So I respect that.”
More recently in 2019, during the Not Again Podcast with Gary Tan, the subject came up again, but it was a less defensive conversation.

Singh raved about his Italian supercar to the interviewer:
“It was great having a Lamborghini for two years. I drove it every day. It’s my favourite car of all time. Love it to pieces.

“I love it so much that one day when my wife said, ‘Get, we have to get toilet paper.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go buy.’

“We have the family car and we have the Lamborghini, right? And I took the Lamborghini, drove to the supermarket, bought the roll of toilet paper, came back.

“She said, ‘Did you just drive all the way just to buy toilet paper?’ I said, ‘Yes, what’s wrong with that?’

“And then I asked her, ‘Do you want to buy anything else? I can buy it. Item by item, please.’ She said no! That’s how much I love the car.”
He added:
“I’m a simple guy, you know. I love Lamborghinis, but I’m a simple guy. A simple Lamborghini guy. It’s a contradiction, I know. Oxymoron.”
In the same podcast, Singh reminisced about how he first fell in lust with the vehicle:
“When I was a little boy, I watched Tom Selleck in Magnum PI, a detective show. And he would drive a Ferrari. I said, ‘What a great car!’

“So fast forward, when I was able to rent a Ferrari for the weekend, I drove it. I was so happy… I couldn’t afford one yet. So I thought I’d rent it.”
Then he spotted a Lambo.
“Oh, there’s a Lamborghini as well. So I went to rent a Lamborghini. I tell you, when I sat in a Lamborghini, without even turning the engine on first, I already felt it was way better than Ferrari. It felt like a jet. I felt like Batman.

“And when I turned on the engine and sat that low, and I drove it with that low throttle sound – my goodness, my hair all stood up. Hair that I didn’t know I had all came up and said, ‘Hello! Hello!’

He might have just described what’s called a cargasm.

Also in 2019, he told 8 Days: “Till this day, I’m still missing my Lamborghini!”

But he can no longer afford one after an “epic reduction in salary” when he ended his full-time contract with Mediacorp in 2014 after 20 years.

So if Singh was not driving his Lambo, what car was he caught speeding in?

According to The Straits Times, he was “believed to be” driving an Audi A8 L.

Sure, apart from the “flapping sound” Singh claimed the car made, the Audi luxury sedan is okay.

But it’s no Batmobile like the Lambo.

Who knows? If he makes many more of those Covid-19 videos for our Government as the pandemic drags on, he may be able to afford the Bull again.


- Published in The New Paper, 14 June 2021

Monday, 31 May 2021

Oh no, am I part of the Jem-Westgate cluster?

Dear Ministry of Health,

I thought I could get away with it.

The pandemic had been going on for more than a year, and I had managed not to get swabbed for a Covid-19 test. No sticks up my nose, thank you very much.

And then Jem happened.

All I wanted was some bananas and bacon bits.

That was why I was at the FairPrice Xtra hypermarket in the Jurong East mall that day.

So on May 18, when I read that you were “encouraging” those who visited Jem or Westgate shopping malls between May 10 to 14 to go for a free swab test, I knew. I just knew.

I reviewed my TraceTogether history. Yup, I checked in at Jem on May 12.

My nose can kiss its virginity goodbye.

On your website, you provided a list of options for the swab test, including “walk in to Raffles Medical at Shaw Centre Orchard”.

But on May 19, when I attempted to walk in to Raffles Medical at Shaw Centre Orchard, there was a queue extending dangerously into the multi-storey carpark.

I was willing to wait, but then I was told that only those who received an SMS from you could take the test that day. This was not mentioned on your website.

Since I did not get any SMS, I had to go back the next day. So I had gone all the way there for nothing.

Not cool, MOH. This was what I got for trying to be a good citizen?

I was so annoyed at you that I decided to skip the swab test altogether. I had no symptoms and was fully vaccinated anyway.

Since I am okay with needles, you may ask, why am I making a fuss over a swab test?

The difference is I have had injections all my life, but a long stick up my nose was terra incognita.

What if I sneeze in the middle of a swab? Would my brain be punctured?

So it is something I'm happy not to do if I don't have to.

A few days later, Jem and Westgate were forced to shut for two weeks as the cluster grew and grew. It was alarming enough that I reconsidered getting the stick up my nose.

So last Tuesday, after getting turned away at a couple of clinics near my home because I did not book beforehand, I finally ended up at Keat Hong Family Medicine Clinic where I was told I had to wait about 45 minutes for the test. No problem!

At least I was not queueing in a multi-storey carpark at the risk of getting knocked down by oncoming vehicles.

All this for some bananas and bacon bits. Damn you, alliterative grocery items.

After everything I went through, I wanted something to commemorate my hard-to-get first Covid-19 swab test.

So as I sat down for the swab, I set my phone to video mode and placed it discreetly on my lap to record the stick going up my nose.

I guess I was not discreet enough because the nurse said: “No filming.”

I thought I could get away with it.

As I fumbled with my phone, trying to switch it to photo mode, she said: “Please keep your phone in your pocket.”

Oh. She had to swab God knows how many people a day and did not need to deal with any more idiots like me as well.

Then I realised it might not have been the best idea in the world to antagonise someone who was about to insert a stick up my nose.

It was my first time. Please be gentle.

With my head tilted back, she went disconcertingly deep into both my nostrils. It tickled a bit but wasn't painful. I did not sneeze.

And thus my nose cherry was popped. I survived my first Covid-19 swab test and didn't even have a selfie to show for it.

The good news is I got my test result the next day – negative. I would not be adding to the Jem-Westgate cluster.

Ironically, that was also the same day I received an SMS from you “encouraging” me to go for a free swab test.

Where was this SMS when I needed it, MOH? You were a week late.

The information on your website has since been updated several times – no more walk-ins, it seems.

I just wish you had planned this whole testing thing better from the start.

To make up for it, the least you can do is allow selfies during the swab test.

You know, for the Gram.

Thank you.

- Published in The New Paper, 31 May 2021

Monday, 17 May 2021

Hey, NEA, how do we return our trays when we’re not even allowed to eat out now?

Dear National Environment Agency,

It was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life.

And I wrote Phua Chu Kang The Movie, so I am very familiar with public humiliation.

I was having lunch at a staff cafeteria that I had never been to before.

This was a number of years ago, so I don’t recall exactly where it was and why I was there even though I wasn't a member of the staff.

What I do remember is after finishing my meal, as I started to walk away from my table, I was startled when the cafeteria suddenly erupted with angry shouting.

It was alarming how quickly the previously civilised office workers calmly eating their food just a second ago turned unhinged and rabid.

What was even scarier was realising that their feral rage was directed at me. It was as if I asked them a question about editorial independence or something. They looked like they were about to rip me to shreds.

What did I do?

Eventually, I figured out from the angry shouting that my fellow diners were taking rather extreme umbrage at me leaving behind my tray of dirty dishes on the table.

I looked around and saw signs reminding people to return their trays, which I hadn’t noticed before. I felt like such an idiot.

I swiftly picked up my tray and searched for where I could return it.

The shouting finally died down and my fellow diners let me live.

How was I to know that returning trays was part of the workplace culture there?

Talk about peer pressure. I wonder how many noobs were similarly traumatised into compliance like I was.

Yes, there were signs, but in most places where I have eaten, the signs are ignored and no one cares.

Whatcha gonna do?

And that’s probably why you announced last Friday that you are making it mandatory for diners in hawker centres to return their trays and clear their table litter from June 1 with the threat of fines up to $2,000 for repeat offenders.

Wait, but on Friday, it was also announced that from yesterday, dining out is banned until June 13 because of the surge of Covid-19 cases in the community.

So as much as we would love to return our trays and clean our table litter after we eat in the hawker centre from June 1, unfortunately, we won’t even be allowed to eat in any hawker centre from June 1 to 13.

This throwback to tighter Covid-19 restrictions must have caught you by surprise. Like Bennifer, it’s a sequel or reboot no one asked for.

I get it. The Government is a huge place. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This just slipped through the butt crack. It happens.

All I’m asking you for is this.

You announced that there will be a grace period of three months from June 1 for people to adjust to this new return-your-tray rule. You will start enforcement only from Sept 1.

But since we will only be permitted to start eating in hawker centres again from June 14 (fingers crossed), can you also start enforcement from Sept 14 so that we get the full three months of the grace period?

Thanks. We need all the time that we can get to adjust to this new new normal.

Don’t you wish Miss Universe Singapore had “Return your tray” written on her national costume instead of “Stop Asian hate”?

Did you try to get Phua Chu Kang to do a “Don't play play, return your tray” video? I guess he’s too busy promoting Shopee and Covid vaccination these days. Did I mention I wrote Phua Chu Kang The Movie?

Anyway, it’s really too bad you have to resort to fines to force people to return their trays.

If only angry shouting could work nationwide.

Or can it?

- Published in The New Paper, 17 May 2021


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

You've seen the page 1, but what was inside the paper that day? Here's The New Paper's 1997 General Election polling day coverage

You have probably seen this image of Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh holding up a copy of The New Paper page one in Parliament yesterday.

Pritam Singh clash with S Iswaran over funding, editorial independence of SPH's new media entity

Posted by AsiaOne on Monday, May 10, 2021

Here's a close-up of the page:

It's from 2 January 1997, the day Singaporeans cast their vote in the 1997 General Election and more than a decade before I joined the paper.

This image of the TNP page one has been circulating online long before yesterday, but no one ever showed what was actually inside the paper. A case of judging a book by its cover perhaps?

I was curious enough that I found these pages from that day's TNP in the NLB online archives.

Sorry, I didn't look up the football pages.

To recreate more of that 90s vibe, here are the No. 1 songs that week in the US and UK.

The New Paper editor at the time was PN Balji, who ironically wrote this commentary for Yahoo:

"The government, the biggest stakeholder in the media business, needs to relax its vice-like grip on The Straits Times....

Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday, 3 May 2021

Coronavirus pandemic: How Bloomberg and a bunch of Harvard nerds jinxed Singapore

Dear Bloomberg,

Let me first say, I’m not a superstitious person.

But I can’t help but notice a pattern – and not the badminton kind.

Someone saying something good about our MRT usually results in something bad happening to our MRT.

I wrote a column about this back in 2015.

Early that year, SMRT won some Global Risk Award for “delivering value through risk management” in London. The presenter was actress Joanna Lumley, star of Absolutely Fabulous.

The award was followed days later by a spate of MRT-related incidents that included a fire, a man walking on the tracks and a girl getting her leg stuck in the platform gap.

Which made the award absolutely ironic.

Months later, then SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek boasted about that and another award during the company’s annual general meeting, saying: “These external endorsements are important signals that we are on the right track in bringing the group to higher levels of excellence in every field.”

This was followed mere hours later by what was described as “possibly the worst MRT breakdown Singapore has experienced”, affecting the East-West Line, North-South Line and more than 250,000 commuters during evening rush hour.

Can you detect a pattern here?

Praising our MRT jinxes it.

Want more evidence? How about something more recent?

In March, Transport Minister (though not for long) Ong Ye Kung was at the ground-breaking for the new integrated train testing centre in Tuas.

The centre will be able to test different trains and rail systems at the same time without disrupting regular passenger services.

Get the latest news delivered to you on Telegram:

Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

In his speech, he acknowledged: “No matter how hard we work and try, the occasional disruption in any engineering system will unfortunately be quite inevitable.”

But he could not resist working in this tiny brag: “Today, the Mean Kilometres Between Failure, or MKBF, of our MRT network is over 1 million train-km. This is a great encouragement and source of pride for the team, and we will do what we can to maintain it."

Even this sliver of self-congratulation was enough to rile the rail gods as in less than two weeks, commuters suffered train service disruptions on two consecutive days.

The train service disruptions today and yesterday happened on different lines and for different reasons, says LTA.

Posted by CNA on Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Land Transport Authority called it “very unfortunate and frustrating”. I call it karma.

MKBF should stand for MRT Keeps Breaking - Fuck!

But what is more troubling is that like a virus, the curse appears to have mutated into new deadlier strains to spread beyond the MRT.

Let me take you back February last year at the beginning of the pandemic.

Singapore was averaging fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases a day. We thought we were doing so well.

A bunch of Harvard University researchers described Singapore as “a gold standard of near-perfect detection”.

But in two months, we were averaging up to 1,000 new cases a day, mostly migrant workers. We were no longer doing well.

One news headline read: “From ‘gold standard’ to ‘cautionary tale’.” Those damn Harvard nerds jinxed us.

Fortunately, the numbers have come down since then with zero new cases in the community on most days over the last few months. We didn’t even cancel Chinese New Year.

Then last week, it happened again.

We were doing so well that you declared “Singapore is now the world’s best place to be during Covid” as we overtook New Zealand in your latest Covid Resilience Ranking.

Along with the recent hoopla over another attempt at the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble, we were just tempting fate.

You and I know what happened next.

Recovered migrant workers at a dormitory tested positive for Covid-19. A cluster emerged at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

On Saturday, we had our first Covid-19 death since March. Those days of zero new community cases are over.

Our Prime Minister even warned of another circuit breaker.

From “world’s best place to be during Covid“ back to square one.

See what you did?

You jinxed us like those Harvard nerds did last year.

I guess we won’t be topping your damn Covid Resilience Ranking this month.

Thanks a lot, Bloomberg.

- Published In The New Paper, 3 May 2021

Monday, 19 April 2021

I got the Moderna vaccine because I didn't know I could choose by vaccination centre

Dear Ministry of Health,

I am sort of a healthcare professional. Or at least used to be.

I was a medic in the navy during my national service and used to vaccinate shiploads of servicemen. That was hundreds of pricks. I mean the injections. The jabs were mostly for tetanus, rubella and hepatitis.

I became rather proficient with a syringe. I had good reviews.

So I am more accustomed to giving injections than getting one.

I wanted to share this fun fact about myself with the young woman giving my first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to show that I can relate to what she was doing.

She probably wouldn’t care, although that hasn’t stopped me before. Otherwise, this column would not exist.

But there was a long queue at Hong Kah North Community Club and I did not want to hold up the line with my reminiscence of injecting seamen 35 years ago.

The young woman was pretty deft with the needle too. Maybe even better than I was. It was over before I knew it. I barely felt the prick. It was like nothing.

The pain only hit me the day after and it hit like a sumbitch.

My left shoulder felt as if it had been punched by shiploads of servicemen. The rest of me was also out of sorts.

But I was fine by the next day, although I still feel a lingering ache in my left shoulder even now when I exercise, two weeks after the jab.

My wife, who had the injection at the same time as me, had the same side effects except maybe a little worse. She also had headaches.

She blamed the Moderna vaccine we were given because her mother, who is in her 90s, reported only minor side effects after getting the Pfizer vaccine.

Before you Pofma me, I should clarify that clinical trials for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown that younger adults tend to report more frequent and severe side effects than older people.

So my wife is wrong to blame Moderna for her suffering. She should blame being younger than her mother.

But despite all the unpleasant side effects, I am still glad I had my shot.

You know why? Because I got a free box of 50 disposable masks and small bottle of water out of it. Woo-hoo!

That is how you get more Singaporeans to go for vaccination – free stuff! Why aren’t you advertising this?

I later found out that a friend who went to a different vaccination centre didn’t get anything. So not everyone gets freebies.

It was only after our injections that we discovered you had published a list indicating which vaccination centre administers the Pfizer and which the Moderna vaccine – but not which centre hands out free stuff.

If we had known earlier, my wife would have chosen the Pfizer one since the Pfizer vaccine is supposedly 1 per cent more effective than Moderna.

That 1 per cent makes all the difference to her.

Don’t you find it funny that even for vaccines, people also care about brand name now?

When I was injecting seamen in the navy, I didn’t know whether the vaccine was from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson or Dettol.

I didn’t know if anyone had a blood clot or a microchip tracked by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates implanted in them after getting vaccinated.

Nowadays, we seem to know so much about the Covid-19 vaccines and yet not enough.

Back then, I just made sure to expel any air bubbles in the needle before sticking it in to avoid accidentally giving someone an air embolism. Hopefully, I didn’t kill anyone.

I can’t wait for my second dose to get more free stuff.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 April 2021

Dear Mr Ong

I do understand your articles are meant not to be taken seriously. And I must say that it is humourless most of the time. There is also a lot of creative writing in your articles. However, I wonder where the boundary line is, as far as use of improper English is concerned.

You mentioned 'don't profma me'. Don't you think that the way you write has a great influence on the readers, especially those who are young and impressionable and those who have little or no proper education in the English language?

I have also seen a lot of others using 'whatapps me,' 'pm me', 'dm me', etc The list goes on. Could you possibly be one of those who are encouraging the use of improper English?

With regards
LEE Thien Poh Steven

Okay, boomer.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

I bought the KFC mask and here's my review

So KFC started selling masks today.

Instead of Original or Extra Crispy, the choice is Night or Day. I picked Night because it's black.

The price is $6.95, but if you order it as an add-on with your food, the mask is only $1.65.

KFC makes no claims that it will protect you from any virus and the packaging says it's "not intended for medical use".

It's made up of two layers of fabric, so it's not so flimsy.

The mask comes in only one size though. I feel it's slightly small for my giant-ass flat face, but because of the adjustable ear loops, it doesn't feel too snug or uncomfortable.

I like the KFC mask enough that I may get the other design.

Which is rather similar to the McDonald's pyjamas from two years ago.

EARLIER: Inspired by Alfian Sa'at, I wrote a poem called McDonald's, You Did Not Have My Pyjamas