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

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